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Science Spotlights

High severity burned patch from the 2011 Horseshoe Two Fire in the Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona.
This research evaluates the use of citizen science in a region with increased stress from ongoing drought and wildfires. Researchers show how it allows for inexpensive and statistically rigorous monitoring, and fosters greater local involvement in science and conservation. This information will be used to determine optimal protocols for a long-term monitoring plan. Inexpensive and statistically rigorous long-term monitoring fosters local...
A fire-adapted ecosystem becomes densely populated and overcrowded in the absence of periodic fire. Photo by: Andrew Larson, University of Montana
The natural role of fire has been disrupted in many regions of the western United States due to the influence of human activities, which have the potential to both exclude or promote fire, resulting in a “fire deficit” or “fire surplus”, respectively. Consequently, land managers need to better understand current departures from natural levels of fire activity, especially given the desire to maintain and restore resilient landscapes. 
Planting limber pine seedlings near objects, such as this rock, increases successful seedling establishment and survival.
Successful restoration planting of limber pine is essential to sustain healthy populations in the wake of native insect outbreaks (mountain pine beetle) and the spread of a non-native lethal disease (white pine blister rust). Planting guidelines are needed to facilitate the effective introduction of seedling genotypes resistance to white pine blister rust and adapted to future climates.   
Westslope cutthroat trout, native to the Columbia River and upper Missouri River hybridize with introduced rainbow trout and have been extirpated from large portions of their historical range.
Hybridization between westslope cutthroat trout and both rainbow trout and Yellowstone cutthroat trout is a major conservation concern for the species.  A new broad-scale analysis of hybridization patterns found many pure populations of westslope cutthroat trout in headwaters streams.
Typical attack by wood borers to fire-injured ponderosa pine showing galleries and bark wood residue.
Rocky Mountain Research Station scientists are looking at tools aimed to respond to insect infestations after a fire occurs, particularly around large-scale conifer forests. Different types of fire injury and tree characteristics, such as the extent of bark damage, crown injury, and tree size were correlated to infestations by different bark beetles and wood-boring insects. Some of the insects occured jointly and were associated with both live...
A clump of snags in ponderosa pine forest, northern Arizona.
Since 1997, RMRS scientists have monitored populations of snags (standing dead trees) and downed logs in northern Arizona mixed-conifer and ponderosa pine forests, as well as patterns of climate-mediated tree mortality influencing inputs to snag and log populations.
Collecting sagebrush volatiles (odors) in a common garden near Ephraim, Utah.
Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) is the dominant plant species across much of the Western U.S. and provide critical habitat and food for many endemic species, including the threatened greater sage-grouse. Sagebrush habitat is imperiled due to disturbances and increased wildfire frequency due to exotic annual grasses. Identification of big sagebrush subspecies is difficult, but critical for successful restoration. Researchers discover that...
The Santa Rita Mountains in Arizona are home to unique bird species (Jamie Sanderlin).
Utilizing genomics to identify species vulnerability to climate change is a newly emerging area of research. This project focuses on three species specifically chosen because they represent three highly distinct trees that are vulnerable in different ways to climate change: Fremont Cottonwood, Southwestern White Pine, and Douglas Fir. Understanding relationships between tree genomics, climate change, species migration, adaptive evolution and...
View of active fire burning surface fuels in a prescribed burn block at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida on February 6, 2011. The overstory is dominated by fire-dependent longleaf pine (photo credit: Andrew T. Hudak).
Build-up of woody and herbaceous fuels increases the risk of hazardous wildfires. Using airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR) scientists are examining fuel build up between wildfires to examine the relationship between surface fuels and fire energy. By integrating the repeated measures of heat flux imaged over the whole duration of a fire, the total energy released was mapped across an entire burn area. Airborne remote sensing provides...
As prescribed fires become more popular among land managers, there's an increasing need to analyze the relationship between fire and soil. As wildfires and prescribed fires burn through forests, they consequentially alter the soil compositions. RMRS scientists have developed a new model to better simulate soil heating and evaporation rates.

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