Research Roundup

Overviews of the climate change work happening at Forest Service research stations.
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Monitoring climate-related changes in Alaska
Pacific Northwest Research Station

Researchers from the PNW Research Station and the Department of the Interior examined options for monitoring ecoregional-level change in northern latitudes. Climate-related changes to Alaska’s forests that could be monitored include changes in abundance and rarity of vascular plants, wildlife habitat, invasive species, fire risk, fire effects, postfire succession, impacts on forest growth and mortality from insects and diseases, and alterations in carbon pools and fluxes. Although managers of individual parks and refuges often have specific needs that require more targeted monitoring, regional level monitoring can help provide context for changes observed within smaller areas.

Contact: Tara Barrett
Cumulative Effects of Succession, Management, and Disturbance on Forest Landscapes
Northern Research Station

For more than 15 years we have worked together with collaborators from other institutions to develop and apply methods to forecast landscape-scale forest change in response to tree growth and species succession as well as disturbance from timber harvest and fire. Much of this work has utilized the LANDIS model to forecast changes in forest conditions for management and disturbance scenarios applied. We have demonstrated the capabilities of these tools to analyze the cumulative effects of management scenarios applied to real forest landscapes in Indiana and Missouri.

Contact: Stephen Shifley
Linking Population, Ecosystem, Landscape, and Climate Models to Evaluate Climate Adaptation Strategies
Northern Research Station

Landscape change will result from interactions among climate change; land use and management; and population, ecosystem, and landscape processes. Approaches to forecasting landscape change have commonly addressed a subset of these factors but rarely have they all be considered. Land managers and planners need knowledge of how these factors will interact and modeling tools to assess the effects of mitigation strategies.

Contact: Frank Thompson
Climate change influences on distributions of sculpin in western Montana
Southern Research Station

Sculpin are ecologically important, small-bodied fishes that live on the bottom of cold- and coolwater streams, rivers, and lakes. They are often the most abundant fish in small streams. We studied distributions of two sculpin species in relation to summer stream temperatures since 2006 and obtained historical distribution and temperature data extending back much farther. Water temperature is an important factor in determining summer distributions of sculpins in the study area, and we are exploring how stream warming influences sculpin distributions.

Contact: Susan B. Adams
Adapting to Climate Change in Olympic National Forest
Pacific Northwest Research Station

The Climate Change Adaptation Case Study at Olympic National Forest, with Olympic National Park as a partner, had the objective of determining how to adapt management of federal lands on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington, to climate change. The case study process involved science-based sensitivity assessments, review of management activities and constraints, and adaptation workshops in each of four focus areas (hydrology and roads, vegetation, wildlife, and fisheries). The process produced concrete adaptation options for Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park, and illustrated the utility of place-based vulnerability assessment and scientist-manager workshops in adapting to climate change.

Contact: Dave Peterson
Response of Subalpine Conifers to 20th Century Climate Variability in the Sierra Nevada: Meadow invasion, snowfield colonization, and changes in growth, form, and genetic diversity
Pacific Southwest Research Station

Using tree-ring methods, ecological plot evaluation, and genetic analysis, PSW scientists are investigating multiple and independent indicators of vegetation response in subalpine conifers to 20th century climate change.

Contact: Connie Millar
Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science
Northern Research Station

The Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS) has been designed as a collaborative effort among the Forest Service, universities, forest industry, and conservation organizations to provide information on managing forests for climate change adaptation, enhanced carbon sequestration, and sustainable production of bioenergy and materials. Please see the NIACS website for project descriptions and products:

Contact: Chris Swanston
Soil carbon dynamics in peatlands: PEATcosm
Northern Research Station

Peatland ecosystems represent 3-5% of earth's land surface, but store 12-30% of soil organic carbon. However, this very large pool of carbon is vulnerable to loss to the atmosphere as CO2 because of climate change. Lowered water tables caused by climate change or human-caused drainage can shift peatlands from being net carbon sinks to net carbon sources. The PEATcosm experiment was initiated to study the relationships between water tables, plant communities, and carbon and nutrient cycling in peatlands in a controlled setting. Read more on the experiment here [pdf].

Contact: Evan Kane
Assessing Local Urban Forest Carbon Storage, Sequestration and Effects on Emissions from Building Energy Use
Northern Research Station
Project website:

The i-Tree suite of models is designed to link research with local data on tree populations to assess the services and values provide by trees. The model is constantly being updated with new features and is being used globally. The model estimates numerous ecosystem services, disservices, and values, and includes estimates of tree carbon storage and annual sequestration, and their effects on building energy and consequent emissions from power plants. For more, please see the i-Tree tools page.

Contact: David Nowak
Effects of urban tree management and species selection on atmospheric carbon dioxide
Northern Research Station

Trees sequester and store carbon in their tissue at differing rates and amounts based on such factors as tree size at maturity, life span, and growth rate. Concurrently, tree care practices release carbon back to the atmosphere based on fossil-fuel emissions from maintenance equipment (e.g., chain saws, trucks, chippers). Management choices such as tree locations for energy conservation and tree disposal methods after removal also affect the net carbon effect of the urban forest. Different species, decomposition, energy conservation, and maintenance scenarios were evaluated to determine how these factors influence the net carbon impact of urban forests and their management. If carbon (via fossil-fuel combustion) is used to maintain vegetation structure and health, urban forest ecosystems eventually will become net emitters of carbon unless secondary carbon reductions (e.g., energy conservation) or limiting decomposition via long-term carbon storage (e.g., wood products, landfills) can be accomplished to offset the maintenance carbon emissions. Management practices to maximize the net benefits of urban forests on atmospheric carbon dioxide are discussed.

Contact: David Nowak

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