Announcing Four New Projects Funded by the NE CSC

Thursday, September 29, 2016
Connecticut River Photo: Abigail Ericson

Connecticut River Photo: Abigail Ericson

The Northeast Climate Science Center has awarded just over $1,000,000 to NE CSC consortium institutions, universities and other partners for research to guide managers cultural and natural resources in planning how to help species and ecosystems adapt to climate change.

The four NE CSC-funded studies will focus on how climate change is already affecting and is expected to affect natural and cultural resources as well as related management decisions and actions that can be taken to help offset such change.   Two projects are multi-faceted, cross-consortium capstone projects commencing this fall.  One that looks at the biological thresholds of species response to climate change, and the other, a headwaters to ocean approach to “slow the flow” and build resilience to extreme events. The other stakeholder-driven project builds on an existing project that investigates causes of marine and coastal species shifts and altered timing of processes in the Gulf of Maine.  These not only benefit from the combined effort of multiple investigators, but are scaled to find solutions across our region (and beyond).  


The projects are:
Mechanisms for species responses to climate change: Are there biological thresholds?
Climate change is affecting the Northeastern and Midwestern United States. Natural resource managers looking to maintain species and ecosystem services have asked NE CSC scientists to predict the impact of climate change. In response, an interdisciplinary team is working to understand how climate change affects species, including particular temperature or precipitation thresholds that might soon be crossed. Based on the research that has already been supported by the NE CSC and its partners, this project will use the latest analytical techniques combined with field studies to determine the impact of climate change, land use change, and species interactions on species of conservation concern. We will analyze existing data for any climate thresholds that can be linked to known biological thresholds that can inform management. Focal species will include eastern tree species, songbirds, moose, Canada lynx, snowshoe hare, and southern pine beetle. Major outcomes will include knowledge that will allow better vulnerability assessments and adaptation planning, meetings with state and federal managers, peer-reviewed publications, species-specific fact sheets, and public webinars.


Slowing the Flow for Climate Resilience (SFCR): Reducing Vulnerability to Extreme Flows and Providing Multiple Ecological Benefits in a Non-Stationary Climate 
In a climate-altered future, identifying and implementing management actions that mitigate anticipated flow regime extremes (floods and droughts) will be an important component of climate adaptation strategies and planning. This research assesses whether a ‘slow the flow’ approach (increasing natural water storage via activities such as floodplain reconnection, conversion of impervious surfaces, beaver management, and restoring complexity and sinuosity to stream channels) for integrated watershed management can decrease water resource and infrastructure (such as roads and residences) vulnerability to extreme events while providing additional benefits for ecosystems and fish and wildlife habitat. To achieve this objective, we will convene stakeholder working groups, co-develop alternative scenarios, and develop and apply models to help managers and conservation organizations develop ‘win-win’ solutions to climate change adaptation. 


How and why is the timing and occurrence of seasonal migrants in the Gulf of Maine changing due to climate? 
Shifts in phenology, or the timing of recurring life events, have been described as a “fingerprint” of temporal and spatial responses by biodiversity to climate change impacts. Thus phenology provides one of the strongest indicators of the adaptive capacity of organisms to cope with future environmental conditions. In this study we will investigate how the timing and occurrence of a suite of highly migratory marine animals is changing due to a series of climatic and ecological drivers. Using existing long-term historical data series, we will determine the direction and magnitude of how migration, abundance, or other phenological indicator has changed in a suite of marine mammals, sea turtles, and fishes that migrate into the Gulf of Maine on a seasonal basis. Because marine animals are inherently cryptic and imperfectly detected, we will apply novel statistical approaches, namely dynamic occupancy models, to evaluate seasonal migration patterns and habitat use across multiple habitats in the Gulf of Maine region. Lastly, we will synthesize regional information on a key prey species, sandlance, whose timing and abundance is a strong predictor of the occurrence and behavior of predators targeted in this study as well as a range of other regional fish and wildlife of conservation and management concern. Results will identify species that are relatively more or less adaptive and thus vulnerable to climate change, determine the likely primary drivers of those changes, as well as data gaps and future monitoring needs. Ultimately, this information will be useful to inform regional coastal management and adaptation plans. 


Critical thresholds and ecosystem services for coastal ecological and human climate adaptation  

In an ongoing collaborative project between the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative (NA LCC) and the Northeast Climate Science Center, researchers have been compiling existing threshold information on priority coastal fish, wildlife, and plant species as well as coastal habitats along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and Caribbean in response to sea level rise and storm projections. As the effects of climate change on ecological and human communities grow, the possibility of crossing tipping points or thresholds of viability increases the potential for rapid and possibly irreversible changes in ecosystems. Therefore, understanding thresholds related to climate change is critical for facilitating conservation and management actions, which could help to prevent more costly and possibly catastrophic effects in the near (years to decades) and distant (decades to centuries) future. The compilation of this information will help to develop a more comprehensive understanding of how natural systems will respond to climate change and how land and resource management decisions could potentially help these species.   In addition, a Coastal Resilience Resource List provides an inventory of the work being undertaken by LCCs, CSCs, and partner organizations to address coastal resilience issues in the Atlantic, Gulf, and Caribbean regions as a one-stop shopping list to support a growing coastal resilience network. The list includes completed, ongoing, and planned projects, reports, guidelines, programs, online support tools, and papers.

Each of the Department of the Interior's eight Climate Science Centers (CSCs) form a national network, and are coordinated by the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center, located at the headquarters of Interior's U.S. Geological Survey.  The CSCs work with states, tribes, federal agencies, LCCs, universities, and other regional partners to identify the highest priority management challenges in need of scientific input, and to solicit and select research projects.  Together, these partners will assess the impacts of climate change and other landscape-scale stressors that typically extend beyond the borders of any single national wildlife refuge, national park or Bureau of Land Management unit and will identify strategies to ensure that resources across landscapes are resilient in the face of climate change.