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Science Spotlights

Storm near Elko, Nevada
Fresh water begins as precipitation falling on the land and fresh waters. Water naturally evaporates from the land or vegetation, percolates down to groundwater aquifers, or flows toward the sea via rivers and streams. Water that evaporates is unavailable for use until it falls again elsewhere as precipitation. What remains is available for use by humans and other species and in a broad sense is our fresh water supply.
Tree rings record variations in climate, especially precipitation (photo by John Shaw)
​The availability of water is the most important factor affecting year-to-year variation in tree growth in most forest ecosystems. Some effects of drought, such as tree mortality, are obvious, but relatively little is known about non-lethal impacts. This study showed that drought impacts linger beyond the end of dry periods. Understanding this phenomenon is important to anyone who is interested in projecting future biomass of a forest or the...
Lake Tahoe is renowned for its intense blue hue (photo compliments of Wikimedia Commons).
Forest Service scientists developed the Water Erosion Prediction Project (WEPP) model for forest conditions. Recent improvements to this model are the addition of shallow lateral flow as one of the primary sources of runoff from steep forested watersheds and the development of a phosphorus delivery model.
Trends in forest attributes are typically assessed using long-term forest inventories, but trends can only be assessed when inventory methods are compatible over time. This study demonstrated an appropriate method of comparing historical to current inventory data, showing that comparisons not accounting for changing inventory methods can produce misleading results about forest trends in western states.
Spruce beetles are a native insect that infest spruce forests.
In recent decades, bark beetle disturbances are increasing in extent and severity across western forests. Causes and consequences of spruce beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis) infestation are important to the management of Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii) forests. Forest Service scientists modeled the effects of increased temperatures and changing forest stand conditions, such as density and species composition, on the likelihood of spruce...
Forest Service scientists and partners developed an aggressive approach to investigate the biological and habitat characteristics of sickleweed (Falcaria vulgaris), a rapidly expanding invasive plant recently introduced into the grasslands of the northern Great Plains. Documenting patterns of invasion before species becomes widespread and identifying traits that may contribute to the success of recent invaders can increase our knowledge of...
Lubrecht Experimental Forest was a study site for this project.
Researchers with the Rocky Mountain Research Station investigated a number of fuel characteristics across major surface and canopy fuel components that comprise northern Rocky Mountain forest and range fuelbeds. They found that most fuel components have high variability that increases with fuel particle size.
Species like the European Starling (top, photo courtesy of Cephas/Creative Commons) thrive with human settlement.
Housing development has been particularly strong near protected lands because many people see these environments as desirable places to live. This study documented the trends in new home construction near protected lands and explored if this housing development impacted biodiversity of avian species within protected areas.
Background The public, forest managers, and scientists now have the most comprehensive inventory of forest health trends in New Mexico’s history. The report New Mexico’s Forest Resources, 2008-2012, summarizes the most recent inventory of New Mexico’s forests based on field data collected from more than 3,000 forest areas between 2008 and 2012.
Understanding trends in forest disturbance caused by fire, harvest, stress, weather, and conversion is important for many forest management decisions as well as scientific investigations. After a decade of collaborative work between the Forest Service, NASA, University of Maryland and other partners, the North American Forest Dynamics (NAFD) project has processed historic Landsat data. This effort provides a comprehensive annual, wall-to-wall...