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Impact of people on environment

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.
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. 
Sampling streamwater in watersheds of the Hayman Fire
Severe wildfires remove vegetation and organic soil layers and expose watersheds to erosion which can transport large quantities of soil and ash to nearby rivers and streams. But once the burned areas have stabilized, do severe wildfires have any longer-lasting effects on watersheds or water quality? This study follows the Hayman Fire, 2002, Colorado, and shows that yes, there are long-term effects.
Photo of a fen with floating mat on the water. The mat has Carex limosa and Sphagnum mosses
Mountain fens (peat-accumulating wetlands) are groundwater-dependent habitats (i.e. groundwater dependent ecosystems) protected under the Clean Water Act and other federal mandates in the United States. There is increasing interest in documenting and monitoring the occurrence and characteristics of fens. In addition to supporting unusual plants, fens are sites of carbon and water storage and long-term ecological stability, since the underlying...
decorative image of native american artifacts
This research looks at opportunities to utilize traditional phenological knowledge to support adaptive management of social-ecological systems vulnerable to changes in climate and fire regimes. Integrating phenological knowledge into natural resource stewardship is important in making land management decisions. Indigenous knowledge of seasonal change adds a broader ecological knowledge base in the context of changing and vulnerable social and...
This large Douglas-fir died in 2012 and is surrounded by many smaller Douglas-fir, white fir, and Southwestern white pine that recruited during fire exclusion.  Stand density in mesic mixed conifer forests increased on average 1725% during fire exclusion.
The onset of fire exclusion in western North American forests in the late 1800s began one of the largest unintended landscape ecology experiments in human history. The current ecology of these forests and the ecological impacts of returning fire to these forests is strongly influenced by the amount of forest change that has occurred during the fire-free period. Understanding how different forest types responded to fire exclusion is important for...
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...
Final resistance map depicting the combined effects of topographical roughness, slope position, land cover and human footprint on resistance to tiger gene flow in Central India.
The Bengal tiger is the world’s largest feline, which has suffered immense declines in range and population. Today, less than 10 percent of the tiger's original range is occupied with a global population of less than 7000 individuals in the wild. Understanding the factors that drive local abundance and population connectivity are critical for the conservation of this species.  
The Mexican spotted owl is listed as a Threatened Species under the Endangered Species Act and is vulnerable to habitat loss from wildfire and climate change. RMRS scientists are leading a cutting-edge modeling effort to predict the interactive effects of forest restoration, wildfire, and climate change on the distribution, population size, and population connectivity of Mexican spotted owl across the Southwestern United States.  
Figure 1Map of Borneo showing areas of forest loss between 2000 and 2010 in yellow, areas of forest persistence from 2000 to 2010 in green, and areas that were not forest in 2000 in black.
A collaborative team, led by RMRS Research Ecologist Samuel Cushman, has produced a substantial breakthrough in advancing predictive modeling of drivers and patterns of deforestation. The method combines multi-scale optimization with machine-learning predictive modeling to identify the drivers of deforestation and map relative future deforestation risk.