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Environment and People

Science Spotlights

Dwarf Bear Poppy at the White Dome Preserve (photo credit: Alyson DeNittis)
Census and monitoring are fundamental to rare plant conservation but can be expensive, labor-intensive, and damaging to fragile habitats. We developed a method using drone imagery to census populations of the endangered dwarf bear-poppy in its desert gypsum badland habitat and model its fine-scale habitat requirements. The drone can carry out a census in two days that would take two botanists a month to complete on the ground, with virtually no...
Rivers and streams of the American Southwest have been heavily altered by human activity, resulting in significant changes to disturbance regimes. Riparian vegetation in arid land floodplain systems is critically important as foraging, migrating, and breeding habitat to birds and other animal species. To conserve riparian ecosystems and organisms, understanding how plants and animals are affected by disturbance processes and multiple stressors...
Historical and projected energy consumption for the United States according to energy source (EIA 2018).
Major US energy sources -- fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas), biofuels (ethanol), and wind, are concentrated in grassland ecosystems of the Great Plains. We aim to provide syntheses of potential ecological effects of energy development and production on grassland systems and identify opportunities to mitigate these effects during the planning, construction, and production phases by using informed methodology and improved technology. 
Aspen clones are commonly seen growing alone (a) or mixed with various species of conifer (b).
Quaking aspen is the most widely distributed tree species in North America. Healthy aspen forests are highly productive and support greater biodiversity than any other upland forest type in the Intermountain West. Overall, quaking aspen has been in decline throughout much of the Region and is in need of restorative intervention.
Watershed following the Las Conchas Fire on the Santa Fe National Forest. Credit goes to: Anna Jaramillo-Scarborough
Wildfires, an important natural disturbance in southwestern ecosystems, can present challenges to resource managers, communities, and private landowners when they burn areas subject to post-fire flooding and erosion. Many government agencies and research institutions have developed science and management tools for estimating post-fire effects and mitigating risks in burned landscapes. We assessed the utility of currently available tools and...
Potential changes in vegetation distribution in Yellowstone NP, Grand Teton NP, and adjacent Forest Service wilderness areas.
National parks, wilderness areas, and nature reserves were created to preserve a sample of pristine ecosystems, but even the most remote protected areas face serious threats from climate change. Managers would benefit from a better understanding how ecosystems within protected areas may respond to global warming.  
Tree planting after a wildfire on the Boise National Forest
The number of global initiatives for forest restoration, and the scope of these initiatives, continues to increase. An important tool for meeting objectives of these global initiatives is reforestation, achieved by natural processes or by tree planting. Worldwide, organizations are challenged to most efficiently and effectively direct resources to the most critical reforestation needs. Currently in the United States, the reforestation efforts of...
A picture of open oak forest with grassland understory treated by fire in Missouri, showing greenery and trees (photo courtesy of C. Kinkead).
Although not presented in textbooks, open forests were the dominant historical forested ecosystems of the United States. Eastern and western oak forests and southeastern pine forests no longer occur at landscape scales. Management for open oak and pine forests will provide herbaceous habitat, critical to many declining bird and pollinator species.
Big sage mountain brush
An unprecedented conservation effort is underway across 11 Western states to address threats to sagebrush ecosystems and the many species that depend on them. Today, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior released the Science Framework for Conservation and Restoration of the Sagebrush Biome (Part 2). The Science Framework provides a transparent, ecologically responsible approach for making policy and management decisions...
Sheltered from wind and scorching heat, a seedling takes root in mature biological soil crust (photo by Neal Herbert, National Park Service).
Human activity has led to a global decline in biodiversity across all trophic levels, reducing the ability of ecosystems to maintain key functions. The loss of various species in an ecosystem has wide-reaching effects by reducing the numerous and often hidden species-species and species-environment interactions. These disruptions ultimately lead to changes and declines in the ecosystem’s functionality. 

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