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Science Spotlights

The Wildfire Risk to Communities logo
The Wildfire Risk to Communities website provides a nationwide view of wildfire risk potential, allowing users to see how individual states, counties, or communities compare to others across the country. These maps are powered by datasets developed by RMRS. 
Drought-induced pinyon pine mortality at lower treeline in Rock Creek, CA.
Many forests in dry mountain regions have a lower elevational treeline that constitutes the dry edge of the forest belt.  Lower treelines currently at their climate limit are expected to be more sensitive to changing climate. Lower treelines constrained by non-climatic factors are less likely to respond directly to climate change but may be sensitive to other global change agents. Understanding the controls on the position of lower treeline can...
A map showing tree mortality percentage from low (blue) to high (red).
Forest insects kill and defoliate trees across millions of acres each year. RMRS scientists have developed a new method to map insect-caused mortality with satellite imagery, which is supporting 2020 monitoring efforts.
A map of the United States showing forest loss event types - green (most of the northeast and west) shows stable forest, purple (most of the southeast) shows removal, and other colors indicate fire, stress, conversion, wind, and other.
A collaborative project between USFS FIA, NASA, and several universities has developed a new, national map attributing the cause and timing of forest canopy cover losses occurring between 1986 and 2010 across the conterminous United States. The models separated areas of stable forest from areas experiencing persisting forest cover loss (e.g. conversion of forest to other land uses), temporary forest cover loss due to abrupt changes (fire,...
A grassland stretches out to a blue horizon.
The Great Plains is the grasslands of the central United States, but precise delineation of this region has evaded agreement due to the transition between Great Plains grasslands and forests of the eastern United States. After comparing Great Plains delineations in readily available GIS (geographic information system) layers, Rocky Mountain Research Station scientist Brice Hanberry established a northeastern boundary using evidence from...
A map of the continental United States showing current plant hardiness zones in a scale of colors.
Research from Rocky Mountain Research Station's Brice Hanberry and Northern Research Station Jacob Fraser shows changes in the ecological boundaries of plant hardiness zones and the Köppen-Trewartha classification system between current climate (1981–2010) and future climate (2070–2099), as well as changing climate within stationary state boundaries of the conterminous United States. Displaying concrete boundary shifts to emphasize potential...
The photo shows a land management personel in a grassland setting in the Chihuahuan Desert with a controlled burn in the foreground.
Using the best available science and tools, we can project the effects of today’s management actions on tomorrow’s non-forest vegetation assemblage, carbon, and productivity while considering changing climates. 
Close-up of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo from the Grand Canyon. Picture courtesy of National Park Service
The western distinct population segment of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo (wYBC), listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, has experienced severe population declines due to loss and fragmentation of riparian habitats. To assist ongoing conservation efforts by the Audubon Tucson Society, we are implementing MaxEnt to model suitable habitat for wYBC in Arizona under current and future conditions.
A picture of open oak forest with grassland understory treated by fire in Missouri, showing greenery and trees (photo courtesy of C. Kinkead).
Although not presented in textbooks, open forests were the dominant historical forested ecosystems of the United States. Eastern and western oak forests and southeastern pine forests no longer occur at landscape scales. Management for open oak and pine forests will provide herbaceous habitat, critical to many declining bird and pollinator species.
Trailing edge forest Southern Rockies ecoregion
Forests are an incredibly important resource across the globe, yet they are threatened by climate change through stressors such as drought, insect outbreaks, and wildfire. Trailing edge forests—those areas expected to experience range contractions under a changing climate—are of concern because of the potential for abrupt conversion to non-forest. However, broad-scale forest die-off and range contraction in trailing edge forests are unlikely to...