You are here: Home / Research Topics / Research Highlights / Individual Highlight

Research Highlights

Individual Highlight

Understanding How Forest Genomics Impact Ecosystem Vulnerability to Climate Change Across the Western U.S.

Photo of The Santa Rita Mountains in Arizona, a Madrean Sky Island range, are home to unique bird species. Jamie Sanderlin, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.The Santa Rita Mountains in Arizona, a Madrean Sky Island range, are home to unique bird species. Jamie Sanderlin, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Snapshot : Understanding the interactions between tree genomics and the resilience and vulnerability of forest ecosystems is critical to anticipate and adapt to the effects of climate change. This study evaluted this relationship in three tree species Southwestern white pine, Fremont cottonwood, and Douglas fir across their ranges within the U.S. These species were chosen because they represent three highly distinct types of trees that are vulnerable in different ways to climate change.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Cushman, Samuel A.  
Research Location : Northern Region (R1), Idaho, Montana, Rocky Mountain Region (R2), Colorado, South Dakota, Southwestern Region (R3), New Mexico, Intermountain Region (R4), Utah
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2016
Highlight ID : 1032

Summary

Genomics is a growing field that combines DNA sequencing and bioinformatics to assemble and analyze the function and structure of genomes. Utilizing genomics to identify species vulnerability to climate change is also a newly emerging area of research. Forest Service scientist Samuel Cushman is co-principal investigator on three National Science Foundation-funded projects that are pushing the envelope in understanding forest genomics and its relationships to ecosystem resilience, recovery and vulnerability to climate change across the western U.S. The combination of massive range-wide genomic sampling, fine-scale microclimatic sampling, cutting edge genomic analysis, replicated common garden experiments, and powerful simulation modeling are enabling these projects to make revolutionary advances in understanding gene-environment-climate interactions and how they influence ecosystem responses to global change. The projects focus on several focal tree species, including Southwestern white pine, Fremont cottonwood, and Douglas fir across their ranges within the U.S. These species were chosen because they represent three highly distinct types of trees that are vulnerable in different ways to climate change. Fremont cottonwood is a riparian species that is vulnerable to loss of surface water through increased evaporation, decreased precipitation, and increased human utilization of water resources in the southwest. Southwestern white pine is a an upper montane species, which inhabits the Sky Island mountain ranges in the southwest, and is vulnerable to the shrinkage and isolation of these mountain habitats as the climate warms. Douglas fir is a species of immense economic and ecological importance and inhabits a large range in the western United States. Understanding the response of this species to climate change across its range will provide key insights and valuable information for the conservation and management of a keystone species. Understanding tree genomics and its relationships with climate change and disturbance regimes promises to revolutionize management and conservation of natural resources. Ecosystem resistance, resilience, and recovery are closely linked to the population responses of tree species to perturbations such as climate change and disturbance. The genomics of tree populations largely govern their ability to resist or recover from such impacts.Fremont cottonwood population connectivity is governed by a combination of river network connectivity and climatic gradients. Recently collected massive genomic samples of Douglas fir across its range in the United States are enabling transformative analysis of genomic relationships with climatic gradients, which will facilitate prediction of effects of climate change on this keystone species.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Pacific Northwest Research Station
  • Northern Arizona University
  • Oregon State University
  • University of Montana
  • University of Washington

Strategic
Program Areas

Priority
Areas