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Landscape ecology

Science Spotlights

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.
A picture of a small cage with abundant blanket flowers.
A recent meta-analysis collating global results from seed predation studies found that small mammals may structure plant communities around the world, with an interesting twist – in deserts where seeds are relatively small, they suppress large-seeded plants, but in systems like tropical forests, where seed sizes are much larger, they tend to suppress relatively small seeded plant species.
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. 
Figure showing intra-annual (e.g. seasons), intermittent (e.g. fire), and interannual (e.g. climate change) dynamics in ungulate migration.
Connectivity is becoming a key conservation strategy to maintain biodiversity given widespread habitat loss, land-use change, and fragmentation. Because landscapes are inherently dynamic, incorporating dynamic process into connectivity models can offer a better understanding of ecological processes and more accurate spatial outputs. The information provided by dynamic connectivity models can enhance the longevity and success of management and...
Mountain lake on the Lolo National Forest.
Ecological resilience has previously been explored mostly as a theoretical concept. To put it into practice, managers need methods to quantify the ecological resilience of current conditions and project resilience under future scenarios. This paper offers a process for using geospatial data, simulation modeling, and landscape pattern analysis to evaluate ecosystem resilience at management scales.
Two researchers in safety gear crouch next to a frame used to take photoload sequences in the field.
The photoload technique provides a quick and accurate means of estimating wildland fuel loading. This report describes a protocol to create a set of photoload sequences in the field with minimal effort to increase the accuracy of the photoload technique in your local area.
An adult and juvenile spotted owl looking out from a hole in a dead, charred tree.
Whether severe fire is good or bad for spotted owls will influence how some forests are managed for fire risk. In reality, the effects of severe fire on spotted owls depends on the size of severely-burned patches, as well as their configuration and complexity. Owls actively use small patches of severely-burned forest, but they avoid larger patches and will abandon territories that are extensively affected by severe fire.
A Mexican spotted owl sits on a branch.
Habitat loss and fragmentation are the most pressing threats to biodiversity, but understanding the potential for future habitat loss under climate change and its impacts across broad landscapes is difficult. Habitat selection models and area burned models that account for complex climate-fire relationships can help predict the impacts on species like the Mexican spotted owl.
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. 
Spruce forest in the Tien Shan Mountains above Almaty, Kazakystan
Less than 5% of Kazakhstan is forested, so those forests are highly valued for erosion prevention, water retention, timber, and recreation. Yet little is known about their ecology or threats to forest health. A 200-year tree-ring reconstruction by RMRS scientists and collaborators indicates that bark beetles have historically posed little threat to these forests.