Research Roundup

Overviews of the climate change work happening at Forest Service research stations.
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Ecological gradient analyses in a tropical landscape

International Institute of Tropical Forestry

To further enhance our understanding of elevational gradients and their dynamics in light of climate change, researchers established a multidisciplinary program focused on organismal, community, ecosystem and landscape approaches to the study of tropical forests in northeastern Puerto Rico. These studies provide the foundation to measure the short- and long-term effects of climate change on biotic communities and biogeochemical cycling. Understanding the nature of gradients, and responses of species to them, helps to better predict responses to future conditions and ultimately to develop and sustain the kinds of landscapes that support societal interests and human wellbeing.

Caribbean Climate Sub Hub (CCSH)

International Institute of Tropical Forestry

The Caribbean Climate Sub Hub (CCSH) is located in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico, and is one of seven Regional Hubs and three Subsidiary Hubs nationwide. The CCSH will work with USDA to deliver science based knowledge and practical information to farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners that will help them to adapt to climate change and weather variability by coordinating with local and regional partners in federal and state agencies, universities, and the public. The CCSH is focused on tropical forestry and agriculture and will provide:

  • Technical support for agricultural land and forest managers to respond to drought, heat stress, floods, pests, and changes in growing season in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Outreach and education to farmers, ranchers, forest managers and advisors on ways to build resilience to extreme weather events and thrive despite change.

The Vision of the CCSH is that agencies, organizations, producers, managers, and decision-makers work collaboratively to promote sustainable and best management practices that ensure food, water, and other vital resources are available in the US Caribbean by sustaining and strengthening the services provided by natural land and seascapes, working lands and rural communities in the face of changing climate. The Mission of the CCSH is to help society sustain and improve the viability of forestry and agricultural production, the availability and quality of soil and water resources, the viability and quality of rural lifestyles, and food security in light of climate variability and change. The Goal of the CCSH is to develop and deliver information related to climate, agriculture, and forestry for better planning and implementation of actions related to the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change in the tropical working lands and oceans in the Caribbean.

The San Juan Urban Long-Term Research Area (ULTRA)

International Institute of Tropical Forestry

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.

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.

Effects of warming on a Puerto Rican subtropical forest

International Institute of Tropical Forestry

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.

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.

Decision Support for Tropical Watershed Management

Pacific Northwest Research Station, Pacific Southwest 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.

Restoring composition and structure in frequent-fire forests: a science-based framework for improving ecosystem resiliency

Rocky Mountain Research Station

Many forests in the southwestern U.S. are adapted to frequent, low-intensity fires. These forests are currently experiencing uncharacteristicly severe wildfire, insect, and disease episodes resulting in altered plant and animal demographics, reduced productivity and biodiversity, and impaired ecosystem functions. These disturbances are predicted to increase as future climates in the Southwest become warmer and dryer. This research aimed to develop a restoration framework for frequent-fire forests based on restoring the historical composition, structure, and spatial patterns of vegetation. Implementing the restoration framework is expected to improve the resiliency of frequent-fire forests by allowing natural ecosystem processes such as low-intenisty fire to resume. Restoring key elements may position frequent-fire forests throughout the western U.S. to better resist, respond, and adapt to future climates and disturbances.

Project Abstract:

Sierra Nevada Climate, Water Yield, and Water Quality

Pacific Southwest Research Station

Ten headwater catchments in the southern Sierra Nevada have been studied since 2003 with regard to climate conditions, water yield, and water quality. Five of the catchments are in the current rain-snow interface climate zone and five are in the snow-dominated zone. Since there is only a 1,000 foot difference between these zones, the higher elevation catchments are expected to transition to a combination of rain and snow as climate changes in California. Studying how the lower elevation area functions gives us insight about how the higher elevation area will function with a changing climate; for the southern Sierra Nevada this is predicted to be less snow and more rain with about the same total amount of precipitation. This knowledge is very important as 50% of the surface water for California originates in the Sierra Nevada.

Evaluating landscape level sensitivity to changing peak and low streamflow regimes

Pacific Northwest Research Station

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.

Project Abstract: