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Research Themes

Forest Service research provides knowledge and tools to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of aquatic and terrestrial animals to meet the needs of present and future generations. Agency scientists work to understand the complex interactions of species, ecosystems, land use and management, and emerging threats (such as climate change, loss of open space, invasive species, and disease) to improve the ability of decision-makers, for both private and public lands, to plan and manage for multiple uses.

Please scroll below to learn more about Forest Service wildlife and fish research objectives (species and ecosystems, land management, and threats) and link to current projects across the country.

Species and Ecosystems

Shepard’s Dell, Columbia River Gorge
M. Hemstrom
Shepard’s Dell, Columbia River Gorge

Wildlife and fish research in the Forest Service addresses basic relationships between species and their habitats through exploration of how environmental factors and management affect their distribution and health. A host of disturbances, both natural — like wildfire — and human-caused — such as urban development, can influence wildlife and fish habitats and populations.

Forest Service research covers a broad array of species and ecosystems, including those of special concern due to their management importance. Key focus areas include: monitoring habitats and population size and trend, understanding how and why changes in landscapes and waterways occur across time and space, and predicting the distribution and abundance of species. Research on species and ecosystems is foundational, providing context for all wildlife and fish research.

Highlighted Research

Stream Temperature Modeling and Monitoring — Thermal patterns are important to aquatic ecosystems because they strongly dictate species distributions, productivity, and abundance. This web site 1) provides a mapping tool to help biologists in the western US coordinate temperature monitoring efforts, 2) describes techniques for measuring stream temperatures, and 3) presents several statistical models for predicting stream temperatures and thermally suitable fish habitats from temperature data.

Monitoring the Recovery of the Northern Spotted Owl — Forest Service scientists monitor population trends of Northern spotted owls on federal lands to help determine how population performance differs across regions and land management allocations. Data collected during these studies is used by the US Fish & Wildlife Service to evaluate progress towards owl recovery. In addition, biologists and managers from state and private organizations make extensive use of the site-specific data to make management decisions and to consult with federal agencies about owl populations and habitat.

Land Management

image of forest
M. Hemstrom

Management activities on public lands to produce goods and services can affect wildlife and fish in many ways. Forest Service research informs strategies to meet growing demands for water, energy, and other natural resources while ensuring the sustainability and diversity of terrestrial and aquatic species.

Research topics range from effects of traditional resource uses, such as prescribed fire and timber harvest, to newer land uses such as all-terrain vehicle riding alternative energy development, and human pressures at the wildland-urban interface. This research allows the Agency to meet legal mandates while effectively meeting the needs of wildlife and fish on public lands. Agency scientists have conducted management-related research on many species of special concern, including the Northern spotted owl, red-cockaded woodpecker, Pacific salmon, and bull trout.

Highlighted Research

Sage-grouse and Energy Development — Forest Service researchers are examining the nesting ecology of greater sage-grouse, a species the US Fish & Wildlife Service designated as “warranted but precluded” from listing as threatened or endangered. Research about sage-grouse and its habitat affect decisions related to livestock grazing and other public land uses, such as energy development. Forest Service researchers are also investigating the impacts of wind energy on bat populations.

Reducing Hydropower Plant Effects on Frog Eggs and Tadpoles — In regulated rivers, relicensing of hydropower projects can provide an opportunity to change flow regimes and reduce negative effects on sensitive aquatics species. Forest Service researchers explored how the volume of flow, timing of spills, and magnitude of seasonal pulsed flows affect the early life stages of amphibians such as the foothill yellow-legged frog. This information aids in managing aquatic species in regulated river systems.


Big Brown Bat
Big Brown Bat

Many threats beyond the control of land and water managers may affect wildlife and fish populations and their habitats. These threats, such as loss of open space, invasive species, and global climate change, often occur at large scales and may combine in novel ways to affect species and habitats.

Forest Service research provides critical knowledge to identify and respond to such threats. For example, Agency scientists have developed 1) models predicting changes in habitat and species distributions under different climate change scenarios, 2) strategies to maintain habitat connectivity for terrestrial and aquatic species under future climate scenarios, 3) forecasts of the effects of loss of open space, and 4) methods to monitor and control wildlife and fish diseases, such as white-nose syndrome in bats.

Highlighted Research

Climate Change Resource Center — a reference website for resource managers and decisionmakers who need information and tools to address climate change in planning and project implementation. The site provides Forest Service research on climate change and wildlife, aquatic ecosystems, biodiversity, and more.

Fire and Fish Dynamics in a Changing Climate — Many native fish, such as bull trout and cutthroat trout, evolved with fire, and their populations are typically resilient to fire’s effects. However, stream habitat fragmentation and degradation and the invasion of nonnative fishes (such as brook trout and brown trout) have reduced this resiliency and climate change may weaken it further. Forest Service researchers are linking fire succession simulation models with stream temperature and trout growth models to predict changes in trout species and distributions.

Building Decision Support Tools to Protect Unique Ecosystems — Forest Service scientists are working to increase capacity to aid in the conservation or restoration of Pacific Island watersheds, streams, and water resources vital for humans, animals, and plants. Models are being developed to understand how aquatic ecosystems will respond to forecasted climate changes, and encroaching invasive plants are being incorporated into a new decision support tool.