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Landscape ecology

Projects

Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) is an ecologically important species in high-altitude areas of the West due to the habitat and food source it provides for Clark’s nutcrackers, red squirrels, grizzly bears, and other animals. Whitebark pine stands have recently experienced high mortality due to wildfire, white pine blister rust, and a mountain pine beetle outbreak, leading to questions about the species’ long-term viability. This project seeks to quantify the current distribution and regeneration status of whitebark pine throughout its US range.
The Lassen and Modoc National Forests are revising their Forest Plans, guided by the 2012 Planning Rule. This requires public and tribal input throughout the process and embraces the fact that ecological, social, and economic objectives are interrelated. Because ecological, social, and economic conditions have changed since the original forest plans were written and new science is available, preparing a science synthesis, guided by input from the public, tribes, and forest staffs, is the first step in a multi-step process that eventually leads to revised forest plans.
FPARDY (Fuel PARticle DYnamics), is one of many new efforts to explore surface fuel characteristics at the particle, layer, and fuelbed levels across major forest ecosystem types in the US northern Rocky Mountains (NRM) to develop a set of products that integrate these findings into standard fuel applications.
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 USA has reached the point that land managers of the USDA 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.

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