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Geography

Science Spotlights

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.
Trailing edge forest Southern Rockies ecoregion
Forests are an incredibly important resource across the globe, yet they are threatened by climate change through stressors such as drought, insect outbreaks, and wildfire. Trailing edge forests—those areas expected to experience range contractions under a changing climate—are of concern because of the potential for abrupt conversion to non-forest. However, broad-scale forest die-off and range contraction in trailing edge forests are unlikely to...
National Genomics Center stream water filter setup for eDNA sample collection
The National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation pioneered development of eDNA sampling of aquatic environments at their laboratory in Missoula, MT. The Center has partnered with dozens of National Forests, as well as other state, federal, tribal, and private natural resource organizations to assist in the collection and processing of eDNA samples. Thousands of eDNA samples are collected annually and constitute a rapidly growing...
A prescribed fire burning through Pinus monophylla and Juniperus osteosperma in the Great Basin Piñon-Juniper Woodland of the Southern Intermountain geographic region. (Photo by Jeanne Chambers, RMRS.)
Changes in fire patterns for piñon and juniper vegetation in the western United States were analyzed over a 30-year period. This is the first evaluation of its type.
The global composite index of the wildfire-water risk shows spatial distribution of risk from wildfire impacts on water resources. About half of the area globally (51%) is at moderate risk (values between 20 and 40).
Freshwater resources are vital to humans and our natural environment. Water systems around the world are at risk resulting from population growth, urban development, ecosystem degradation, climate change, and over the past several years, from large catastrophic wildfires. Scientists developed the first global evaluation of wildfire risks to water security bringing us a step closer to a global database that maps key wildfire-water risk indicators...
Winter snowpack on the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest in Utah. Photo by USDA Forest Service.
Understanding snowpack variability is an important goal of water management, in particular, in the arid west where snow represents a major water storage feature. Snowpack observations in the Intermountain West are sparse and short, making them difficult for use in depicting past variability and extremes.
Wolverine
A new optimization technique will help conservation biologists choose the most cost-effective ways of connecting isolated populations of rare species. As the human population grows and expands its footprint, maintaining the connectivity of wildlife habitats is a challenge, but an RMRS-led team has developed tools for cost-effective solutions.
Cover of Exotic Brome-Grasses in Arid and Semiarid Ecosystems of the Western US – Causes, Consequences, and Management Implications
Invasive annual brome grasses are resulting in altered fire regimes and conversion of native arid and semi-arid ecosystems in the western United States to annual grass dominance. The problem is particularly acute in sagebrush shrublands where cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) has resulted in annual grass fire cycles that are placing numerous native species such as greater sage-grouse at risk and threating ecosystem services such as livestock forage,...
Western white pine is so named for the light color of its wood. The timber was used for everything from window and door frames to shelving, paneling, and furniture. Photo by Susan McDougall, USDA-NRCS Plants Database.
A fundamental goal of biogeography is to understand the factors that drive spatial and temporal variability in forest growth across large areas. The Interior West Forest Inventory and Analysis program collected tree-ring data from thousands of plots that can be used to investigate controls on growth variability. Understanding the factors that control growth are important for managing species that could exhibit range shifts in response to climate...
Interior West states showing FIA plots and plots with tree-ring data.
Tree-ring data collected as part of the Forest Inventory and Analysis program in the Interior West is being assembled into a massive dataset with many tens- of thousands of trees. Given the underlying sampling approach to the Forest Inventory and Analysis grid, the tree-ring data collected can be used for many novel research applications.

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