Researchers are actively working to understand the impacts of "ecological drought" on important natural and cultural resources.
What's The Problem?
Drought imposes many tangible and obvious 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 (including losses in plant growth, increases in fire and insect outbreaks, altered rates of carbon, nutrient, and water cycling, and local species extinctions).
Scientists anticipate that the frequency of ecological drought in many areas across the country will increase in the future as temperatures rise and precipitation patterns become more variable. Ecological drought is a particularly important line of new research because very little information is currently known about the magnitude or persistence of potential impacts.
What Are We Doing?
The CSCs and NCCWSC, along with a number of partners, are actively working to understand the regional effects of ecological drought, identify potential threats to valued resources, and prioritize research efforts that consider potential drought effects on ecological systems.
Together, the NCCWSC, Nature Conservancy and Wildlife Conservation Society have launched a new Ecological Drought Expert Working Group through the Science for Nature and People partnership. The goal of the working group is to deliver a comprehensive assessment of the ecological impacts of drought and to inform efforts to reduce the risks facing nature and people. The group will also seek to understand ways in which communities can adapt to the long-term effects of drought by supporting healthy ecosystems. The group’s findings will be synthesized at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis and will help to inform local communities, businesses and conservation practitioners. The work will also help guide new research being conducted around the country.
The NCCWSC is working with the Integration and Application Network (IAN), an initiative of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, on an initiative to synthesize and communicate information related to ecological drought that is developed and collected throughout the CSC network. Through this partnership, eight workshops will be held in each of the eight CSC regions to collate our 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 join together to write and publish several papers describing the state of our knowledge on ecological drought.
View summaries from the regional workshops:
Images on Page:
Top: Drought- and bark-beetle–induced mortality in high-elevation whitebark pine forests, northern Warner Mountains (Drakes Peak), Oregon. By Connie Millar, U.S. Forest Service
Middle: Dry Sink Bed. By Alan Cressler, USGS
Bottom: Sagebrush burning at Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge. By Scott Shaff, USGS