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Global Change Research in the USDA Forest Service

Ecosystem Dynamics Research

The Ecosystem Dynamics research component focuses on the response of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems (forest, range, and wildland; wetlands, lakes, and rivers) to global change. The objective of this research is to understand and anticipate the ecosystem changes that will result from altered environmental conditions and to understand the sensitivity of key ecosystem processes and components to different levels of stress. Ecosystems Dynamics research employs a variety of techniques and methodologies that are dependent on the scale of inquiry. So, it has been divided into three sub-elements according to scale:

Basic Plant Processes -- To understand basic plant processes, chamber experiments are conducted to determine plant responses to altered physical environments -- enhanced CO2, O3, and acidic deposition; changes in temperature and moisture availability; and increased insect stress. Controlled experiments provide data on genetic resilience to stress and adaptability of individual plants to changing environments.

Ecosystem Processes -- To understand ecosystem processes, long-term investigations of hydrology, soils, and forest communities are conducted in experimental forests and watersheds maintained by the Forest Service and cooperators. Additional extensive observations are made along environmental gradients and across ecotones. Paleoecology is used as an historical base for forest health and productivity. Sensitivity of the mechanisms of nutrient cycling by microbes and small soil animals to global change is also studied.

Regional Impacts -- At the regional scale, ecosystem models and resource production models are used to synthesize and extrapolate the results of experimental and observational research. Such models help us understand and predict how ecosystem productivity and vegetation distribution may respond to global change.