Research Roundup

Overviews of the climate change work happening at Forest Service research stations.
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Genes for climate tolerance in Douglas-fir and big sagebrush

Rocky Mountain Research Station, Pacific Northwest Research Station

Many forest and range plants are finely attuned to their local climate, making it necessary to match seed sources with planting locations. From ecological and economic perspectives, the adaptability of the plants is critical. Forest Service and university geneticists are working to identify genes that enable certain trees and plants to tolerate and adapt to climatic extremes. This knowledge will enable nursery managers to deliver locally adapted, genetically appropriate materials for restoration even as the climate changes.

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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.

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Mycorrhizal fungi and postfire establishment of tree seedlings

Pacific Northwest Research Station

Understanding the complex mechanisms controlling treeline advance or retreat has important implications for projecting ecosystem responses global environmental change. A warming climate not only promotes growth of seedlings and mature trees; it also enhances disturbances, such as fire that leads to further seedling establishment. Researchers examined how the availability of fungal inoculum for the formation of critical mycorrhizas influenced postfire tree seedling establishment.

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Teresa Hollingsworth
Arctic fire releases large amounts of stored carbon to the atmosphere

Pacific Northwest Research Station

Arctic tundra stores large amounts of carbon in cool wet soil that is hundreds to thousands of years old. Fire has been largely absent from this biome for thousands of years, but its frequency and extent are increasing, probably in response to climate warming. The Anaktuvuk River Fire in 2007 burned 645 square miles of Alaska’s Arctic slope, making it the largest fire on record for the tundra biome and doubling the cumulative area burned since 1950. Research on this fire is being used to implement measurement techniques that estimate carbon loss in tundra areas. It is also being used by scientists who are initiating studies on the effect of fire disturbance on tree migration into the Arctic.

Yellow cedar continues uphill retreat

Pacific Northwest Research Station

Continuing research on yellow-cedar populations in southeast Alaska has found many dead trees at lower elevations and live trees most common at mid elevations. Regeneration peaked at higher elevations. These trends are consistent with the understanding that the presence of spring snow is a primary factor in the health and successful regeneration of yellowcedar. This knowledge is guiding decisions about where to favor this valuable tree through planting and thinning.

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                   David D'Amore
Science-management partnership facilitates management adapted to climate change

Pacific Northwest Research Station

As part of an agency-wide effort, scientists have been collaborating with national forest managers and other agencies to ensure that climate change will be addressed effectively on federal land. Through a science-management partnership, they have developed scientific principles, processes, and tools for communicating about climate science, conducting assessments of the vulnerability of natural resources to climate change, and developing adaptation strategies and tactics that ensure sustainability of resources in a warmer climate.

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Warmer winters likely to expand range of dwarf mistletoe

Pacific Northwest Research Station

Climate is a key control that regulates where tree species and their pathogens can survive. By analyzing forest inventory data, scientists found that hemlock dwarf mistletoe, a leading disease agent for western hemlock, is restricted to the warmer southerly and low elevation forests in Alaska. The absence of dwarf mistletoe in some hemlock forests may be attributed to shorter growing seasons or suggest that snow limits dwarf mistletoe's reproductive dispersal. Both western hemlock and hemlock dwarf mistletoe are projected to benefit from a warmer, less snowy climate. Scientists are projecting the potential distributions of both the tree and disease agent to affect the health of western hemlock forests during the next century in Alaska.

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NetMap module - climate change planning at the watershed level

Pacific Northwest Research Station

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The effects of climate change differ depending on local conditions such as topography and aspect, making it difficult for natural resource managers and decisionmakers to plan ahead. To remove some of the guesswork, researchers developed NetMap, a tool to help users determine where processes that influence aquatic ecosystems are likely to occur in a particular landscape. A feature of NetMap added in 2011 lets users scale likely climate-change impacts to specific watersheds in national forests of the Pacific Northwest. These climate impacts include changes in the pattern and amount of streamflow, water temperatures, and wildfire frequency and magnitude. Results from this analysis can be exported to Google Earth to show where changes are most likely to occur.

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Projecting Climate Change in the United States: Developing climate projections to support the Forest Service RPA 2010 Assessment

Rocky Mountain Research Station

For the 2010 USDA Forest Service Resource Planning Act (RPA) Assessment, a scenario-based approach is being used. A set of future U.S. scenarios, the RPA Scenarios, linked with IPCC global scenarios, provide a coherent interdependent future for population dynamics, socioeconomic factors and climate change, 50 years into the future. This project developed the historical and projected climate data set being used in concert with the socioeconomic data in resource models of forest condition, water supply/use projections, wildlife habitat, recreation participation, and amenity migration for the RPA Assessment.

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High resolution interpolation of climate scenario change factors for the conterminous USA derived from AR4 General Circulation Model simulations.

Rocky Mountain Research Station

Researchers from the USDA Forest Service and the Canadian Forest Service collaborated in the production of a suite of downscaled change factors to use in developing climate projections covering the continental United States and Canada. The change factors were derived from simulations carried out with state-of-art general circulation models (GCMs).

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