When many people think of drought, they consider its impacts on human food and water supplies. But the effects of drought can actually go much deeper and are often more insidious. Long periods without rainfall can alter the delicate balance of natural ecosystems and harm many fish and wildlife species. The term “ecological drought” encompasses and emphasizes these environmental consequences. The Science for Nature and People (SNAP) Ecological Drought Working Group defines ecological drought as “a prolonged and widespread deficit in naturally available water supplies — including changes in natural and managed hydrology — that create multiple stresses across ecosystems.”
In 2015, the Climate Science Centers (CSCs), National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center (NCCWSC), and university partners undertook the challenge of understanding the regional effects of drought on wildlife and ecosystems, identifing potential threats to valued resources, and prioritizing research efforts that consider potential drought effects on ecological systems.
To support this initiative, NCCWSC is partnering with the University of Maryland’s Integration and Application Network (IAN) to hold a series of 8 workshops, one with each of the 8 CSC regions. These workshops are aimed at collating existing knowledge of the ecological impacts of and resistance and adaptation to drought across the U.S. The regional workshops will culminate in a national synthesis project where representatives from each CSC will collectively write and publish several papers describing the state of our knowledge on ecological drought.
Keep an eye out over the coming months for a new series of posts on our website. These will describe the outcomes of each of the 8 workshops, give an overview of ecological drought impacts across the country, and provide information on our ongoing drought-related research projects in the 8 CSC regions!
New research from NCCWSC-funded scientists at North Carolina State University and the University of Montana shows that the evolutionary clock is ticking for snowshoe hares, which may not be able to keep up with the seasonal shifts caused by climate change.
Snowshoe hares rely on camouflage for protection, changing their coats from brown in summer to white in winter. This only protects them, however, when snow cover comes and goes each year on the same schedule.
Based on an article published this week in Ecology Letters, changes in snow timing and duration due to climate change are deadly for snowshoe hares. White hares stand out like "light bulbs” against snowless backdrops, presenting an easy target for predators. The researchers collected data from radiocollared snowshoe hares in Montana and found that mismatched hares suffer a 7 percent drop in their weekly survival.
“This paper shows that the mismatch costs are severe enough to cause hare populations to steeply decline in the future unless they can adapt to the change,” says lead author Marketa Zimova.
While individual hares cannot modify their molt timing or behavior, different hares molt at different times, enabling natural selection to favor those with molt schedules better suited to new snow patterns. Evolutionary change is slow, however, so the researchers recommend management actions that promote adaptation.
This research was funded in part by the USGS National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center. Lead author Marketa Zimova also received support from the Southeast Climate Science Center. Learn more about the team’s work here.
Photo: White snowshoe hare on a snowless background. Credit: L. Scott Mills Research Photo
In addition to the sessions and presentations below, don't miss the AGU Honors Ceremony and Banquet on Wednesday, December 16 where two Southwest Climate Science Center Principal Investigators, Glen M. MacDonald and Jonathan T. Overpeck, will be recognized for their recent selection as 2015 AGU Fellows!
Communication as a Driver of Landscape Change (Poster Session: GC11D) Convener & Chair: Kristin Timm, Science Communications Lead, Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning (SNAP) and the Alaska Climate Science Center* Monday, December 14, 2015: 8:00am - 12:20pm
NOTE: This list includes sessions and presentations where a CSC-affiliate is a primary convener or presenter. CSC staff, researchers and affiliates are involved, as co-authors and partners, on a number of other presentations at AGU. For a full list of programs and presentations at the meeting, please visit the AGU website: http://fallmeeting.agu.org/2015/.
Published Date: September 23rd, 2017
Researchers from North Carolina State University have found that urban environments increase pathogen abundance in honey bees (Apis mellifera) and reduce honey bee survival. The finding raises significant questions as urban areas continue to grow at the expense of rural environments, and urban beekeeping becomes more popular.
“We wanted to determine if the increased temperatures and impervious surface areas associated with urban environments have an effect on the number of pathogens bees are exposed to, and to the bees’ immune responses,” says Steve Frank, an associate professor of entomology at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work.
“We also wanted to look at both managed honey bee colonies and ‘wild’ ones, to see if that made a difference – and it did,” says David Tarpy, a professor of entomology at NC State and corresponding author on the paper.
Working with volunteers, the researchers identified 15 feral colonies, living in trees or buildings without human management, and 24 colonies managed by beekeepers in urban, suburban, and rural areas within an hour’s drive of Raleigh, N.C. The researchers collected worker bees from all of the colonies, and analyzed them to assess the bees’ immune responses and their overall “pathogen pressure.” Pathogen pressure accounts for both the types of pathogen species present and the abundance of those pathogens.
The research team found that colonies closer to urban areas and those managed by bee keepers had higher pathogen pressure.
“Overall, we found that the probability of worker [bee] survival in laboratory experiments declined three-fold in bees collected from urban environments, as compared to those collected in rural environments,” Frank says.
However, the researchers also found that immune response was not affected by urbanization.
“Since immune response is the same across environments, we think the higher pathogen pressure in urban areas is due to increased rates of transmission,” Tarpy says. “This might be because bee colonies have fewer feeding sites to choose from in urban areas, so they are interacting with more bees from other colonies. It may also be caused by higher temperatures in urban areas affecting pathogen viability or transmission somehow.”
“Feral bees expressed some immune genes at nearly twice the levels of managed bees following an immune challenge,” Frank says. The finding suggests that further study of feral bee colonies may give researchers insights that could improve honey bee management.
“Honey bees are important pollinators and play a significant role in our ecosystems and our economy,” Tarpy says. “This work is really only a starting point. Now that we know what’s happening, the next step is to begin work on understanding why it is happening and if the same negative effects of urbanization are hurting solitary, native bee species that are presumably more sensitive to their local environment.”
The paper, “Urbanization Increases Pathogen Pressure on Feral and Managed Honey Bees,” was published Nov. 4 in the journal PLOS ONE. The co-lead authors of the paper are Elsa Youngsteadt, an entomology research associate at NC State, and Holden Appler, a former graduate student at NC State. The paper was co-authored by Margarita López-Uribe, a postdoctoral researcher at NC State.
The work was supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture; the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services; a Dean’s Enrichment Grant from the NC State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; a gift from the North Carolina State Beekeepers Association; and by the Department of the Interior’s Southeast Climate Science Center (SE CSC).
The USGS National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center (NCCWSC), together with a number of federal and non-federal partners, is announcing this week, at the National Adaptation Forum, the release of a new online registry for vulnerability assessments! The Climate Registry for the Assessment of Vulnerability (CRAVe) is a new web-based community resource that houses information on assessments of the vulnerability of various natural and cultural resources to a changing climate.
Vulnerability assessments are important for identifying resources that are most likely to be affected by climate change and providing insights on why certain resources are vulnerable. Consequently, they provide valuable information for informing climate change adaptation planning. CRAVe allows users to enter information about their vulnerability assessments and includes a public search of existing assessments for specific geographic regions, assessment targets or endpoints, managing entities, and other factors. CRAVe was developed by NCCWSC, EcoAdapt, and a number of other federal and non-federal partners. The purpose of the tool is to share information among different organizations regarding climate change vulnerability and reduce duplicate efforts, which will, ultimately, increase the value of existing assessment investments.
CRAVe is being inaugurally released this week (May 12-14, 2015) at the National Adaptation Forum (NAF) in St. Louis, Missouri during several sessions/events:
Poster: Climate Registry for the Assessment of Vulnerability (CRAVe): A Tool to Track Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments: Tuesday 17:30 – 18:30
CAKE Tools Café:Climate Registry for the Assessment of Vulnerability (CRAVe): A Tool to Track Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments: Tuesday 18:30 – 20:30
Symposium: CAKE Tools Café:Emerging Adaptation Tools and Resources From Around the Field: Wednesday 15:30 – 17:30
Directors and staff from NCCWSC and several of the Climate Science Centers will also be participating at NAF and leading sessions on various topics:
Working Goup: Tribal Climate Adaptation: Working Together, Making Progress, and Charting the Course Forward: Tuesday 13:30 – 15:30 (NCCWSC)
Working Group:Identifying Decision‐Focused Climate Adaptation Activities and Aligning Priorities across Multiple Sectors and Scales in the Southeast United States: Tuesday 13:30 - 15:30 (Southeast CSC)
Symposium: Is it Doing Any Good? Monitoring and Evaluating Climate Adaptation Activities: Tuesday 16:00 – 17:30 (Southwest CSC) Poster:Adapting to climate change impacts across the Northeast and Midwestern United States: Case studies from the Northeast Climate Science Center:Tuesday 17:30 – 18:30 (Northeast CSC)
Training Sessions:Climate Science Grant Writing Workshop for Tribes:Wednesday 13:00 – 15:00 (South Central CSC)
Working Group:Speaking Truth to Power and Power to Truth: Building a Two‐Way Street in Climate Change Assessments:Thursday 13:30 – 15:30 (South Central CSC) Symposium:Federal climate science and adaptation programs in the US: Identifying pathways for synergistic coordination and collaboration: Thursday 10:30-12:30 (Southwest CSC, Southeast CSC, NCCWSC)
Post-NAF (May 15) meeting on best practices for evaluation of GCMs and downscaled datasets: The South Central CSC will be holding an informal meeting to discuss “best practices” for evaluating global climate models and downscaled datasets as well as guidance for their use in climate assessments and planning. Friday May 15 (8:00am-noon) at the Missouri Pacific Room at the St. Louis Union Station Hotel
NCCWSC/CSC participants at NAF include: Robin O'Malley (NCCWSC), Nicole DeCrappeo and Josh Foster (NW CSC), Kim Winton, Renee McPherson, Derek Rosendahl, Mike Langston, and April Taylor (SC CSC), Michelle Staudinger and Alex Bryan (NE CSC), Aranzazu Lascurain, Cari Furiness, Adam Terando, Adrienne Wootten and Elda Varela-Acevedo (SE CSC), and Steve Jackson and Carolyn Enquist (SW CSC).
We hope to see you there!
Published Date: September 23rd, 2017
Wetlands across the U.S. and around the world act as a crucial link between land and water, providing a number of services such as removing excess nutrients, pollutants, and sediment from water and acting as natural buffers to floodwaters. In 1991, the Environmental Protection Agency established May as American Wetlands Month to celebrate the importance of these ecosystems.
Understanding both the impact of climate change on wetlands and the role that wetlands play in adapting to climate change is a vital part of ensuring climate change preparedness. Several of the research projects funded by the Climate Science Centers (CSCs) focus on ways to improve the methods and tools used in wetland research and to help shed light on how changes in climate might affect these invaluable resources. The results of these studies are often used to support planning and decision-making by natural and cultural resource managers.
• In the Northwest, a group of researchers found that some wetland amphibians are at risk of local extinction due to climate change and the intentional introduction of predatory species, as described in a paper published last year. The team is integrating remote sensing, hydrological and biological modeling, and traditional fieldwork to understand climate change impacts to wetland habitats.
• In the Gulf of Mexico, a team is researching the connections between climate and wetland ecosystem structure. This study explores the effect of freshwater availability on plant species abundance, comparing scenarios of a drier vs. wetter future for the south central and south eastern U.S.
• Mangrove forests are also being studied in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coast to understand how mangrove forest migration, due to changes in regional climate, can cause displacement of salt marshes. This change in coastal plant life has important implications for the ability of coastal ecosystems to handle climate change impacts such as sea-level rise and extreme storm events.
• Researchers in the Northeast have conducted a critical evaluation of terrestrial and wetland habitat classification and mapping methods to help standardize various ecosystem maps that currently exist and help managers utilize such maps when making decisions about wetland vulnerability or other problems.
• Studies are being conducted in the Pacific Northwest and in California where salt marshes, mudflats, and shallow bays act as connected habitats that support a wealth of wildlife species. Scientists are examining current weather patterns, bottom elevations, tidal range, and sediment of wetland habitats to see how these elements affect plants and animals, and to understand how they will be impacted by climate change.
These projects represent only a small portion of our work on understanding climate change impacts to wetlands and other important ecosystems throughout the U.S. To learn more about our research, please browse our project pages by region or visit our project search page.
Images on page: Top right: St. Marks NWR Wakulla County_FL (by Alan Cressler) Middle left: A Cascades frog peeks out of the water in Olympic National Park (by Maureen Ryan) Bottom right: Mangrove marsh (by Mike Osland)
The authors found that urbanization would have a much larger impact on the ecosystem than climate change and they suggest that restoration, rather than just maintenance, is necessary in order to achieve conservation goals.
Photo: Pinus palustris; Credit: USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station
Posted on 1/12/2015
Published Date: September 23rd, 2017
Who keeps the streets and parks clean in Manhattan? Tiny residents living in some of its smallest green spaces make a major contribution by consuming food waste around the city. A research team, supported by the Southeast Climate Science Center (SE CSC), recently conducted a study to understand the effects that habitat, species identity, and diversity have on the levels of food removal by these urban arthropods. This research uncovered a range of results including that arthropods in medians remove 2–3 times more food per day than did in parks. The team also found that the greatest amount of food was removed by the introduced pavement ant (Tetramorium sp. E). Hotter, drier conditions may also have contributed by increasing the arthropods’ metabolism. These and other findings suggest that habitat and species identity have a greater effect than diversity on the amount of food consumed by urban arthropods. Researchers estimate that arthropods could remove 4–6.5 kg of food per year in a single street median, making the food less available to animals like rats. Chew on that!
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced today that the Department of the Interior’s regional Climate Science Centers (CSCs) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center (NCCWSC) are awarding nearly $6 million to universities and other partners for 50 new research projects to better prepare natural and cultural resources managers to make decisions helping wildlife, ecosystems, and communities adapt to the impacts of climate change.
"These climate studies are designed to help address regional concerns associated with climate change, providing a pathway to enhancing resilience and supporting local community needs," said Secretary Jewell. "The impacts of climate change are vast and complex, so studies like these are critical to help ensure that our nation's responses are rooted in sound science."
As part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the 50 scientific studies announced today will focus on how climate change is affecting natural and cultural resources and tribal communities, as well as inform management actions that can be taken to help offset those impacts. The research can help guide managers of parks, refuges and other cultural and natural resources to plan how to help species, ecosystems, tribes and other communities adapt to climate change. The studies, most of which will occur over multiple years, will be conducted with fiscal year 2014 funding.