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Landscape ecology

Science Spotlights

Hikers in the Lost Coast Wilderness in California (USDA FS)
The Wilderness Act noted its 50th anniversary in the signing of the law in 2014. Leopold Institute scientists and partners contributed five major articles highlighting 50 years of Wilderness science.
View of vegetative recovery five years after fire on a Colorado Plateau site includes scattered mountain big sagebrush plants that grew from seeds that survived the fire. (photo by Stanley Kitchen)
This issue of the GSD Update takes a look at selected studies of the Grassland, Shrubland and Desert Ecosystems Science Program (GSD) that depict its strengths and focus areas. Significant results of recent research and science delivery by GSD scientists are highlighted related to 1) ecosystem resiliency, and native and invasive species management, and 2) the role of climate in species adaptation, restoration and management.
Removing young juniper trees with a chainsaw to restore a mountain big sagebrush community (photo by Jeremy Roberts)
Sagebrush ecosystems and the more than 350 species that rely on them are highly imperiled due to persistent threats such as invasive annual grasses, pinyon and juniper expansion, and altered fire regimes. Understanding their relative resilience or recovery potential following wildfire or management treatments provides the basis for more effective selection of treatment areas and restoration strategies.
Lake Tahoe is renowned for its intense blue hue (photo compliments of Wikimedia Commons).
Forest Service scientists developed the Water Erosion Prediction Project (WEPP) model for forest conditions. Recent improvements to this model are the addition of shallow lateral flow as one of the primary sources of runoff from steep forested watersheds and the development of a phosphorus delivery model.
Spruce beetles are a native insect that infest spruce forests.
In recent decades, bark beetle disturbances are increasing in extent and severity across western forests. Causes and consequences of spruce beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis) infestation are important to the management of Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii) forests. Forest Service scientists modeled the effects of increased temperatures and changing forest stand conditions, such as density and species composition, on the likelihood of spruce...
Species like the European Starling (top, photo courtesy of Cephas/Creative Commons) thrive with human settlement.
Housing development has been particularly strong near protected lands because many people see these environments as desirable places to live. This study documented the trends in new home construction near protected lands and explored if this housing development impacted biodiversity of avian species within protected areas.
USDA Forest Service and University scientists and managers synthesized 100 years of published forestry science to help forest managers better understand the ecology of “frequent-fire” forests. Returning frequent-fire forests to their historical species composition and structure will increase their resilience to fire, insects, disease, and climate change.
Permanent study plot in 2008 one year following timber harvest.
Scientists with the Rocky Mountain Research Station and university partners are investigating the short- and long-term resiliency of understory vegetation of ponderosa pine forests to a variety disturbances associated with timber harvest. Creating and maintaining a healthy forest relies on the resiliency of understory vegetation.
Sage grouse in a field
Recent connectivity assessments for the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) in the Columbia Basin, Washington, provide an opportunity to (1) evaluate approaches for parameterizing resistance models based on sage grouse specifically or the concept of landscape integrity, (2) derive parameters from expert or empirical data, and (3) explore the influence of scale on model accuracy. Sage grouse in this region occupy a small fraction of...
Ferruginous hawk instrumented with a solar GPS transmitter.
Over the past decade and a half, raptors nesting in prairie ecosystems have been subject to sharp increases in nearby energy development activity. This research documents how nesting ferruginous hawks forage in oil and gas energy fields based on GPS telemetry. The purpose is to help managers and companies reflect conservation needs of this species in the management and arrangement of energy-development infrastructure.   

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