Global Change, Vulnerability, and Resilience: Management Options for an Uncertain Future

Dr. Craig Allen | University of Nebraska, Lincoln



The Earth has entered a new epoch, the Anthropocene, wherein the footprints of human activity (e.g., eutrophication, acidification, climate change) may manifest in erosion of ecological resilience and consequential losses of ecosystem services. Ecological resilience is the ability of an ecological system to absorb disturbance without experiencing a catastrophic shift into an alternative regime. To allow the Department of Defense (DoD) to predict and adapt to ecological changes that may result in regime shifts and effect individual bases’ and the DoD as a whole’s ability to carry out their missions, the objectives of this research were to develop models to detect ecological regime shifts in space and time and to develop metrics to quantify ecological resilience and adaptive capacity.

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Technical Approach

The project team used a mixture of sub-continental data (e.g., the North American Breeding Bird Survey) and local datasets (e.g., ecological monitoring data from Eglin Air Force Base and Fort Riley Army Base). They then developed novel statistical tools (e.g., Fisher Information, discontinuity analysis, spatial regimes tracking) and tested existing tools to assess long-term trends in resilience of landscapes, detect and predict ecological regime shifts in both space and time, and identify species vulnerable to decline and extinction, with a focus on the management of DoD properties.

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The project team successfully created methods to detect regime shifts in space and time. Spatial regimes tracked regime shifts that occurred between 1970 – 2015 and across > 500km in central USA. The project team shows that tracking spatial regime boundaries can provide decades of early warning of regime shifts. They also generated new methods based on Fisher Information to detect and predict early warnings of regime shifts over time. Finally, they show that rare species contribute to adaptive capacity, and they demonstrate successful usage of resilience metrics to compare and estimate ecological resilience of ecosystems over time and space.

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Using the methods of the project team, DoD can create resilience-based management frameworks that allows managers to target, and eventually reduce, the uncertainties resulting from global changes. For instance, by tracking spatial regime boundaries across a network of military installations (Figure 1), the DoD could provide early warnings of regime shifts to bases in the path of the changing spatial regimes. This would provide bases decades to adapt to the changes or work to halt the regime shifts.



Figure: Spatial regime boundary movement between 37 – 42 degrees latitude across a network of protected areas covering in central North America. Black lines indicate level III US Environmental Protection Agency ecoregion boundaries, and green polygons indicate protected areas. The ecoregion labeled No. 1 is the Flint Hills ecoregion, and the ecoregion labeled No. 2 is the Western Corn Belt Plains ecoregion. Predicted spatial regime boundaries (colored horizontal lines) correspond with linear prediction for the years 1970, 1985, 2000, and 2015 (β = 0.032 ± 0.026 degrees latitude per year; 90% confidence; F = 4.093; P = 0.052).

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Points of Contact

Principal Investigator

Dr. Craig Allen

University of Nebraska, Lincoln

Phone: 402-472-0229

Program Manager

Resource Conservation and Resiliency