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Landscape ecology

Projects

The framework for restoring and conserving Great Basin wet meadows and riparian ecosystems builds upon long-term work by the research team on resilience of these ecosystems to stress and disturbance. Data and understanding of the resilience of watersheds, valley segments, and stream reaches for a large ecoregion (the central Great Basin) are being used to develop the Resilience-based Framework and to expand its applicability by assessing other common watershed types in the central and northern Great Basin.
Forest surveys alone cannot predict species vulnerability as they cannot determine if the remaining healthy trees are at risk for disease or if they have heritable genetic resistance to support future populations. This project takes range-wide common garden (198 families) and artificial inoculation with Cronartium ribicola (causal agent of white pine blister rust) in order to better undertand host population vulnerability and sustainability.
Many large fires have occurred in recent decades across the western United States and projections predict this trend to continue with increasingly warmer and drier conditions, meaning extensive areas have and will burn severely. Accurate estimates of fuel conditions and vegetation recovery rates of various ecosystems with time since last burn would assist fuel and fire management decisions. Understanding vegetation response trajectories based upon burn severity and other post-burn indicators will increase our ability to effectively prioritize management options and planning to address long-term fuel and fire management objectives.
The cumulative area of LiDAR collections across multiple ownerships in the northwestern United States has reached the point that land managers of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and other stakeholders would greatly benefit from a strategy for how to utilize LiDAR for regional aboveground biomass inventory. The need for Carbon Monitoring Systems (CMS) can be more robustly addressed by using not only available NASA satellite data products, but also commercial airborne LiDAR data collections.
Over one million acres will receive treatments across the Great Basin Landscape Conservation Cooperative (GBLCC) to conserve greater sage-grouse habitat over the next decade. These treatments are intended to restore native sagebrush habitat by reducing encroachment of juniper, infestations of invasive weeds, and wildfire. This project will evaluate the effects of vegetation treatments on population connectivity, genetic diversity and gene flow of wildlife species across the full extent of the Great Basin Landscape Conservation Cooperative.
Forest disturbance reconstructions provide a valuable record of factors leading up to change or stabilization in forest stands. Reconstructions in Colorado usually focus on fire effects, although a few have recorded beetle disturbances. Examining the evidence left by bark beetle disturbance and understanding interactions between insect disturbances and climate events may help guide management of post-disturbance forests.
Researchers and collaborators at the Rocky Mountain Research Station Albuquerque Lab have pursued several lines of research to better manage prairie dog colonies in the Southwest. The research team developed a novel approach to estimate density of prairie dogs, assessed mechanisms of prairie dog expansion, and explored the role of fleas, an important element of the plague lifecycle, in initiating and perpetuating plague outbreaks.
Squirreltail (Elymus elymoides) can rapidly colonize disturbed sites, is relatively fire-tolerant, and is a potential competitor with medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae) and cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum). Determining the extent to which adaptive genetic variation is related to climatic variation is needed to ensure that the proper germplasm is chosen for revegetation and restoration. This study provides (1) seed zones and seed transfer guidelines for developing adapted plant materials of squirreltail for revegetation and restoration in the Great Basin and adjacent areas and (2) guidelines for conservation of germplasm within the National Plant Germplasm System.
Good drought tolerance and fibrous roots make prairie junegrass (Koeleria macrantha) beneficial for revegetation and erosion control on mined lands, over septic systems, in construction areas, on burned sites, and in other disturbed areas. There is a need for greater genetic knowledge of this species to ensure adapted populations are used for restoration and revegetation projects. This study provides (1) seed zones and seed transfer guidelines for developing adapted plant materials of prairie junegrass for revegetation and restoration in the Great Basin and adjacent areas and (2) guidelines for conservation of germplasm within the National Plant Germplasm System.
Previous research funded by the Great Basin Native Plant Project found that bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata) populations differed in traits important for adaptation to precipitation and temperature (St. Clair et al. 2013). Forest Service scientists hypothesize that in the long-term, populations from local seed zones will better establish, survive, and reproduce than those from non-local seed zones. This study examines the efficacy of seed zones for bluebunch wheatgrass to ensure successful establishment and allow for long-term adaptation by maintaining genetic diversity.

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