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Ecology Research Highlights

Fish biologists and aquatic ecologists in the Research and Development (R&D) arm of the Forest Service provide knowledge and tools to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of aquatic ecosystems in the Nation’s forests and grasslands. Forest Service scientists conduct basic and applied research on aquatic species and ecosystems to inform land management and to address existing and emerging threats, such as climate change and invasive species. Forest Service R&D emphasizes science delivery and works with a diverse group of partners, including Federal, State, and tribal resource agencies; universities; nongovernmental organizations; and international cooperators. In 2015, research highlights included projects to inform the management of aquatic species and habitats under future climate scenarios; the ongoing development of innovative protocols for inventory and monitoring of fish populations and habitats; and strategies to meet growing demands for water, energy, and other forest-based commodities while ensuring the sustainability and diversity of aquatic species.

TreeSearch

More information is about the Forest Service R&D fish and aquatic ecology program is available at http://www.fs.fed.us/research/wildlife-fish/.

Treesearch is an online system for sharing free, full text publications by Research and Development scientists in the US Forest Service. Included in Treesearch are scholarly works published by the agency as well as those published by others, including papers appearing in journals, conference proceedings, or books. All publications appearing in Treesearch are based on peer reviewed research to make sure they provide the best scientific information possible. Full-text research publications are freely available from Treesearch, the online repository of scholarly journal articles by Forest Service scientists (http://www.treesearch.fs.fed.us/).

By The Numbers

The Forest Service has the largest forestry research organization in the world.

  • 500 Forest Service employed scientists working at the forefront of natural resource and social science to improve the health and use of our Nation’s forests and grasslands.
  • 07 Forest Service research stations, including the Forest Products Laboratory and the International Institute for Tropical Forestry
  • 500 experimental Forests conducting long-term science and management studies in major vegetation types on Forest Service lands

Broad-scale Assessments Inform Climate-Smart Conservation

A map of the NorWest project to provide stream temperature

Stream temperature database and models continue to expand coverage, identifying cold-water habitat refugia for native trout throughout the Western United States. 

The NorWeST project provides stream temperature data and geospatial model outputs from a regional temperature model. The temperature database consists of more than 150 million hourly temperature recordings from more than 20,000 unique stream sites. Researchers analyzed this temperature data to develop 30 historical and future climate scenarios for more than 1 million kilometers of streams. In FY 2016, the NorWeST team will work to extend the database’s coverage into central and southern California. The database and models are updated regularly on the project’s Website: http://www.fs.fed.us/rm/boise/AWAE/projects/NorWeST.html.

Key Scientific Journals

Title: Applications of spatial statistical network models to stream dataCover of scientific journal Applications of Spatial statistical network

Downloadtreesearch.fs.fed.us/
pubs/45559

Title: The cold-water climate shield: Delineating refugia for preserving salmonid fishes through the 21st century

Cover of scientific journal The cold-water climate shield: Delineating refugia for preserving salmonid fishes through the 21st century

Downloadtreesearch.fs.fed.us/
pubs/47740

Contact Dan Isaak; disaak@fs.fed.us

Innovative Tools Transform Data Collection

A range-wide, environmental DNA-based assessment of the U.S. distribution of bull trout is underway.

Map of U.S. distribution of bull trout

Photo credit: U.S. Forest Service

Forest Service scientists recently developed a habitat occupancy model, which accurately predicts the probability of bull trout presence across the Northwestern United States. Now fish biologists are using this model as a guide to make population surveys more efficient. Applying traditional sampling methods like electrofishing or snorkeling to the thousands of potential bull trout habitats is logistically impossible. Instead, researchers are using environmental DNA to gather precise, robust information about the presence of bull trout quickly and at low cost across the entire range of the species. Environmental DNA (eDNA) has emerged as a powerful method for reliably and inexpensively determining the occurrence of many species. The method involves collecting DNA shed by organisms (i.e., environmental DNA) by pumping water through a filter. Samples collected to evaluate bull trout distributions can be used to evaluate many other species with no additional field costs and can serve as a multi-species baseline for future biodiversity assessments. The techniques developed for this project can also be used to assess the distribution of a wide range of other aquatic taxa. For more information about eDNA, visit http://www.fs.fed.us/research/genomics-center/edna/.

Key Scientific Journals

Title: Distance, flow and PCR inhibition: eDNA dynamics in two headwater streams

Cover of scientific journal Distance, flow and PCR inhibition: eDNA dynamics in two headwater streams

Downloadtreesearch.fs.fed.us/
pubs/46433

Title: Robust detection of rare species using environmental DNA: The importance of primer specificity

Cover of scientific journal Robust detection of rare species using environmental DNA

Downloadtreesearch.fs.fed.us/
pubs/43347

Title: A blocking primer increases specificity in environmental DNA detection of bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus)

Cover of scientific journal A blocking primer increases specificity in environmental DNA detection of bull trout

Downloadtreesearch.fs.fed.us/
pubs/46510

Contact Mike Young; mkyoung@fs.fed.us

Long-Term Studies Elucidate Ecological Processes

A photo of a riparian in western Oregon

Photo credit: Pacific Northwest Research Station, U.S. Forest Service

Riparian 50-foot minimum variable-width buffers along headwater streams sustain aquatic and riparian resources.

Long-term experiments as part of the Density Management and Riparian Buffer Study of western Oregon investigated the interaction between upland forest thinning and various riparian buffer widths, ranging from 20 to 480 feet, on aquatic and riparian resources in headwater systems. Several lines of evidence indicate that 50-foot minimum variabl-width buffers effectively retain sensitive salamander species, accelerate growth of streamside riparian trees, and provide down wood for instream habitat, as well as protect other resource conditions and processes along headwater streams in western Oregon. These findings have bearing on management decisions on streamside riparian reserve widths along headwater streams in the Oregon Coast Range and western Cascades

Key Scientific Journals

Title: A blocking primer increases specificity in environmental DNA detection of bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus)

Cover of scientific journal A blocking primer increases specificity in environmental DNA detection of bull trout Downloadwww.fs.fed.us/pnw/sciencef/scifi178.pdf

Title: Near-term effects of repeated-thinning with riparian buffers on headwater stream vertebrates and habitats in Oregon, USA

Cover of scientific journal Near-term effects of repeated-thinning with riparian buffers on headwater stream vertebrates and habitatsDownloadtreesearch.fs.fed.us/
pubs/48820

Title: Riparian buffers and forest thinning: Effects on headwater vertebrates 10 years after thinning

Cover of scientific journal Riparian buffers and forest thinning: Effects on headwater vertebrates 10 years after thinningDownloadtreesearch.fs.fed.us/
pubs/49627

Title: Management of riparian buffers: upslope thinning with downslope impacts

Cover of scientific journal Management of riparian buffersDownloadtreesearch.fs.fed.us/
pubs/48826

Contact Dede Olson; dedeolson@fs.fed.us

Interdisciplinary Partnerships Expand Insights

A photo of a dolloff brook trout

Photo credit: U.S. Forest Service

Stream warming and acidity are expected to reduce habitat for native Brook Trout in southern Appalachian streams.

Stream warming and acidity are expected to reduce habitat for native Brook Trout in southern Appalachian streams. Stream warming and acidity are expected to reduce habitat for native Brook Trout in southern Appalachian streams. Forest Service scientists and partners published a regional assessment of the combined effects of warming stream temperatures and acidity on aquatic life in the southern Appalachians. The study projects a 10- to 20-percent loss of stream habitat for cold-water aquatic species in forested headwaters. The combined effects of acidification in headwater streams and stream warming likely will restrict acid-sensitive cold-water species such as brook trout to a narrowing band of mid-level stream reaches, increasing the
likelihood that these species will disappear locally and, possibly, regionally. In addition to informing the development of broad-scale regional climate adaptation plans, the study’s results can help managers classify and prioritize watersheds for restoration planning, as well as aid with assessments of the need for and likelihood of success of intervention efforts (e.g., liming, riparian afforestation, native fish reintroduction).

Key Scientific Journals

Title: Downstream Warming and Headwater Acidity May Diminish Coldwater Habitat in Southern Appalachian Mountain Streams

Cover of scientific journal Downstream Warming and Headwater Acidity May Diminish Coldwater Habitat in Southern Appalachian Mountain Streams

Downloadtreesearch.fs.fed.us/
pubs/48955

Title: Ranking site vulnerability to increasing temperatures in southern Appalachian brook trout streams in Virginia: An exposure-sensitivity approach

Cover of scientific journal Ranking site vulnerability to increasing temperatures in southern Appalachian brook trout streams in Virginia

Downloadtreesearch.fs.fed.us/
pubs/45878

Contact Andy Dolloff, adolloff@fs.fed.us.

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