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Impact of people on environment

Science Spotlights

Open pine forest with grassland understory treated by fire.
Land use and fire exclusion have influenced ecosystems worldwide, resulting in alternative ecosystem states. Open forests of savannas and woodlands used to be common, with an abundance of native grasses and flowering plants in the southeastern United States. Open pine ecosystems have transitioned to closed forests, primarily comprised of broadleaf species, and loblolly and slash pine plantations.
A map showing trends in the area burned across northern Eurasia. Kazakhstan shows a concentrated decline in area burned.
Grassland fires dominated the declining trend of burned areas in northern Eurasia, accounting for 93 % of the decline of the total area burned. Grassland fires in Kazakhstan contributed 47 % of the total area burned and 84% of the decline. Wetter climate and increased grazing are the principle driving forces for the decline. 
Map showing three hotspots
Population growth rates in Sub-Saharan East Africa are among the highest in the world, which is increasing pressure for land cover conversion. We investigated land cover trends in collaboration with experts from seven East African countries and through a series of data collection and technology transfer workshops. Our results show that between 1988 and 2017 the area of cropland and settlements grew by 35% and 44%, respectively, displacing over...
Colorful map of AZ and NM
RMRS scientist Samuel Cushman has led the development and application of approaches to optimize multi-scale wildlife habitat relationships. We applied these methods to several American marten datasets and found very strong scale dependence of habitat relationships. We further explored how these methods improve understanding of brown bear habitat selection in Spain and understand niche partitioning of two sympatric marten species.
Cage bottom with surrounding grass
  Ecological restoration commonly emphasizes reestablishing native plant communities under the assumption that restoring plant communities will also restore wildlife, but this assumption is rarely tested. We demonstrate that actively restoring exotic-dominated grasslands to more native plant communities can passively restore the structure and function of native small mammal communities. However, restored consumer functions like seed predation...
Mushrooms growing next to a stump.
A collaborative research team determined that a North American Desarmillaria species was distinct from the Eurasian species, and the North American species was described as D. caespitosa.
 A community assessment framework for assessing how target species management might affect other community members.
Increasingly intensive conservation strategies are being deployed to maintain biodiversity and ecosystem function in response to global anthropogenic threats, including intentionally introducing and eradicating species via assisted migration, rewilding, biological control, invasive species eradications, and gene drives. A global literature review of these actions found that unintended outcomes were fairly common and sometimes serious. However,...
A hillside with open Douglas-fir forest and a grassy understory.
We documented Douglas-fir open woodlands in the Umatilla National Forest in historical surveys conducted in the late 19th century. Douglas-fir open woodland is an unusual ecosystem type that has not been reconstructed in previous large-scale studies.
An open, grassy area with a few charred standing dead trees.
Increases in burned area across the western United States since the mid-1980s have been widely documented and linked partially to climate factors, yet evaluations of trends in fire severity are lacking. We documented an overall eight-fold increase in annual area burned at high severity across all western U.S. forests from 1985-2017 coincident with a warming climate.
Looking up at western larches changing color.
Concern about changing climate is focusing attention on how silvicultural treatments can be used to regenerate or restore forested landscapes. In this study we leveraged a 30-year-old forest management-driven experiment to explore the recovery of woody species composition, regeneration of the charismatic forest tree species western larch, and vegetation and soil carbon and nitrogen pools.