Research Roundup

Overviews of the climate change work happening at Forest Service research stations.
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Decision Support for Tropical Watershed Management
Pacific Southwest Research Station
Pacific Northwest Research Station

This project uses a model study system across the North Hilo-Hamakua Districts of Hawaii Island to model climate change and invasive species impacts on hydrological yield of 86 streams, and the potential response of yield to management including watershed restoration (invasive plant removal) and protection (fencing).

Across this system, total annual rainfall ranges from just under 2000mm per year to over 6000mm per year, but temperature, soils, and vegetation vary minimally. This project integrates hydrological modeling with spatial data on stream habitat condition (measured for the project area), critical habitat for plants and animals, ownership type and conservation status, cost of management, and management efficacy in order to create a watershed decision support tool (WDST). This tool will forecast: 1) climate change and invasive plant effects on stream flow; 2) threat management effects on stream flow; and 3) costs and hydrological benefits of management.

The effect of rising mean annual temperature on tropical montane forests
Pacific Southwest Research Station

This project uses a temperature gradient spanning 5 degrees Celsius to perform studies on responses to warming in a tropical system, including: soil carbon response, soil microbial community response, and carbon stock and flux responses for above and below ground carbon pools and fluxes. These studies take place in the Hawaii Experimental Tropical Forest and Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, across an area where canopy vegetation, soil type, soil moisture, and successional history are all relatively constant.

Contact: Creighton Litton
Effects of warming on a Puerto Rican subtropical forest
International Institute of Tropical Forestry
Project website: http://www.forestwarming.org

This project is working to (1) evaluate the vulnerability of Puerto Rico’s forests to projected increases in temperature; (2) improve our understanding of global warming effects on tropical forest carbon (C) and nutrient cycling; and (3) provide valuable forest response information to land managers, policy makers, and global climate modeling efforts.

Contact: Tana Wood
Luquillo Canopy Trimming Experiment
International Institute of Tropical Forestry

Hurricanes are important drivers of periodic disturbances on tropical forests of the Luquillo Mountains, and this type of disturbance is expected to increase with climate change. This long-term experiment is designed to: 1) examine the effect of canopy disturbance (e.g., increasing light levels, temperature, moisture, etc.) vs. increased detrital inputs on rates of germination, growth, survival, detritus processing, nutrient cycling, soil conditions, and trophic structure, and 2) to increase the frequency of simulated hurricane effects above background levels to once every six to ten years.

The San Juan Urban Long-Term Research Area (ULTRA)
International Institute of Tropical Forestry
Project website: http://sanjuanultra.org/

The San Juan ULTRA is a long-term network and research site established in the city of San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2009 by the USDA Forest Service and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to produce knowledge on urban areas and to support policy, education, and local initiatives in order to improve the quality-of-life and environmental conditions in the city. San Juan ULTRA is a collaborative research network composed of multiple academic institutions, public agencies, non-profit partners, and community leaders, which seeks to conduct and support research about the city of San Juan as a social-ecological system (SES). A SES lens looks at the complex human-nature interactions, taking into consideration multiple spatial and temporal scales, and how these systems can adapt and be sustainable in the face of future changes, such as climate change.

Watering the Forests for the Trees: an emerging priority for managing water in forest landscapes
Pacific Northwest Research Station
Project website: http://www.fsl.orst.edu/wpg

Water stress represents a common mechanism for many of the primary disturbances affecting forests, and forest management needs to explicitly address the very large physiological demands that vegetation has for water. This study demonstrates how state-of-science ecohydrologic models can be used to explore how different management strategies might improve forest health.

Contact: Gordon Grant
Evaluating landscape level sensitivity to changing peak and low streamflow regimes
Pacific Northwest Research Station
Project website: http://www.fsl.orst.edu/wpg

Changes in timing and magnitudes of streamflows under climate change pose significant risks to ecosystems, infrastructure, and overall availability of water for human use. We have developed a spatial analysis that predicts how both peak (winter) and low (summer) streamflows are likely to change in the future for Oregon and Washington. This set of spatial tools gives land managers a full toolbox with which to anticipate and plan for streamflow changes on forest lands.

Contact: Gordon Grant
Coupling snowpack and groundwater dynamics to interpret historical streamflow trends in the western United States
Pacific Northwest Research Station
Project website: http://www.fsl.orst.edu/wpg

A key challenge for resource and land managers is predicting the consequences of climate warming on streamflow and water resources. Over the last century in the western US, significant reductions in snowpack and earlier snowmelt have led to an increase in the fraction of annual streamflow during winter, and a decline in the summer. This study explores the relative roles of snowpack accumulation and melt, and landscape characteristics or 'drainage efficiency', in influencing streamflow. An analysis of streamflow during 1950-2010 for 81 watersheds across the western US indicates that summer streamflows in watersheds that drain slowly from deep groundwater and receive precipitation as snow are most sensitive to climate warming. During the spring, however, watersheds that drain rapidly and receive precipitation as snow are most sensitive to climate warming. Our results indicate that not all trends in the western US are associated with changes in snowpack dynamics; we observe declining streamflow in late fall and winter in rain-dominated watersheds as well. These empirical findings have implications for how streamflow sensitivity to warming is interpreted across broad regions.

Contact: Gordon Grant
Climate change and peak flows: Knowledge-to-action to help managers address impacts on streamflow dynamics and aquatic habitat
Pacific Northwest Research Station
Project website: http://www.fsl.orst.edu/wpg

What will the rivers of the Pacific Northwest look like in the future? Will they be stable or unstable? Will they have salmon or other species? Will the waters be cold and clear or warm and muddy? These questions motivate our study of the effects of climate warming on streams draining the Cascade Mountains.

Previous studies have shown that snowpacks throughout the Cascades are highly vulnerable to warming temperatures, readily changing from snow to rain, and melting earlier. Less certain is how these changes are likely to affect streamflows, particularly in streams that derive much of their flow from deep groundwater and springs. These groundwater streams, which are currently characterized by very stable bed, banks, and vegetation, are particularly sensitive to increasing peak flows in the winter. We want to know how changing snowpacks and increased peak flows are likely to affect these channels, potentially changing their suitability as habitat for threatened species such as bull trout and spring Chinook. Results from our work, which include field and modeling components, will be used to guide management decisions affecting these streams: how dams are operated, whether water suppliers need to worry about turbidity, and how we should manage riparian vegetation.

Contact: Gordon Grant
Use of Natural Areas for Monitoring Long-term Effects of Climate Change
Pacific Northwest Research Station
Project website: http://www.fsl.orst.edu/rna/

Natural areas are special areas set aside for research, conservation, and education. There are over 580 natural areas in Oregon and Washington totaling >1.4 million acres and managed by 20 agencies and organizations. These include Forest Service Research Natural Areas (RNAs) as well as BLM RNAs and Areas of Critical Ecological Concern. Natural areas may one of the best network of sites for studying long-term effects of climate change and this project focuses on three areas of study. The first is to determine if natural areas adequately represent the depth and breadth of the natural ecosystems found in both states. The second is to prioritize sites that may be most vulnerable to climate change effects in the next several decades. Initial findings suggest natural areas are representative across several ecological gradients important for understanding effects of long-term climate and ecological change. In addition, several lists are being developed to help prioritize monitoring based on predictions from a broad range of existing climate change models. The third area of focus is to develop a standardized set of monitoring protocols for long-term monitoring of change using existing and new protocols. New methods being tested include use of terrestrial LIDAR plots to monitor changes in forest structure over time.

Contact: Todd M. Wilson

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