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Climate Change Adaptation Research: Research that advances management options to develop resilient and productive ecosystems in the context of a changing climate.

Much of our research over the years has dealt with managing forests, rangelands, and urban ecosystems in light of stressors such as invasive species, disease, fire, and fragmentation. Climate change impacts are a continuation of this type of research, and in reality, have been an important aspect of this research for quite some time since they interact with other stressors. For example, our research on the impact of the mountain pine beetle epidemic is interwoven with climate change research since much of the increase in insect attacks is due to longer growing seasons and warmer winter minimum temperatures.

In the same way, our research on ecosystem processes provides insight into how increasing temperatures and changing precipitation patterns are expected to alter our forests and rangelands in the future. This information informs vulnerability assessments currently underway by the National Forest System part of the agency, as well as those by partner organizations.

Adaptation/Migration of Plants

Considerable effort is put into understanding how vegetation has and will respond to climate change. This information enables us to assess how ecosystems—and the goods and services society depends on from the land are at risk. Through understanding the factors that impact species survival and distribution, scientists develop appropriate management strategies. These strategies include silvicultural systems that reduce stress or change ecosystem composition and moving species and populations to sites that better support them. Forest Service scientists also explore restoration strategies for specific at-risk species important at local and regional scales.

Fire and Climate Change

Fire frequency and intensity are increasing due to warmer temperatures and altered precipitation regimes. Forest Service scientists investigate how treatments like thinning and prescribed fire may decrease the risk of catastrophic loss from fire. Their research examines how we can bring fire back to fire-dependent ecosystems is appropriate ways. Fire risk models assist managers in prioritizing areas for fuel treatments.

Water and Climate Change

Climate change impacts the quantity, quality and timing of water flow through ecosystems. Historical monitoring data demonstrate how water flow changes in response to climate variability. These data are paramount in calibrating models that incorporate future climate scenarios that anticipate how climate change might affect watersheds and water supplies. Forest Service research also demonstrates how water-related factors in addition to precipitation and snow pack, like geomorphology and land use changes, must all be considered when forecasting future conditions. Research is providing managers options that can mitigate changes in water quality.

Fish & Wildlife and Climate Change

Using the long-term hydrologic data (above) and other environmental factors, we now better understand the changes that are, or will, impact fish populations. For example, scientists find that the timing of water flow is more critical than water quantity for salmon survival and health. This understanding is essential to sustaining salmon populations. Other research provides an understanding of mammalian and avian migration patterns in relation to past climate change. This information helps identify the critical habitats and corridors necessary to maintain wildlife, including neotropical birds. Some Forest Service studies specifically target at-risk species.

Insects & Disease and Climate Change

Research began in the 1970s to develop physiological models that relate weather and climate to bark beetle activity and damage. Current bark beetle outbreaks and expansion patterns were predicted using Forest Service models. Other models examine the current climate profiles for communities and then project the impacts of climate change on other host-pathogen relationships.

Social Science and Climate Change

The interactions among people, their environment, and climate change all affect the outcomes of future climate change. Investigations of how people perceive, experience, and understand the natural environment helps anticipate the impacts of policy and resource management decisions. Understanding the future trends in land use helps project future climate/environment scenarios, which is crucial for assessing the vulnerability of human communities. Other research investigates how policies intended to improve carbon sequestration outcomes could affect social groups differently: Will we create winners and losers in society, and who are they?