Organization: Department of Interior (DOI)

Research Title: Impacts of Global Change on Terrestrial Ecosystems

Funding Level (millions of dollars):

FY94 4.3
FY95 3.9
FY96 3.3

Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR) Component:
(a) Subcommittee: Global Change Subcommittee (100%)
(b) Environmental Issue: Large-Scale Changes in Land Use (100%)
(c) Research Activity: System structure and function: Understanding (50%), Observation (8%); Assessment (20%); Data Management (22%)

Organizational Component:
U.S. Geological Survey
104 National Center
Reston, VA 22092

Point of Contact: :
Michael Carr
Phone: 703-648-4408

Research Goals:
What have been and will be the impacts of human-induced or natural global change on regional terrestrial ecosystems remain significant concerns of resource managers, regional planners, and policy makers. This program addresses the impacts of climate variability or change and interacting stresses on regional terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems represented in the National Parks, on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and in managed forests of the Indian Nations. The program draws on the established infrastructure within the DOI for protected, natural and managed study sites, laboratory and support facilities, and information management.

Research Description:
The program supports ecological process studies and long-term measurements of ecological responses at the species, community, ecosystem, landscape, and biome level. Projects are designed to: (1) determine the response and sensitivity of ecosystems and ecological processes to existing climate conditions and other environmental factors, (2) evaluate how global change may influence ecosystem dynamics, structure, function, habitat associations, populations, and long-term variability, resiliency, and productivity, and (3) assess approaches to sustain the productivity, health, and diversity of ecosystems through adaptation or mitigation. Emphasis is on sensitive areas likely to provide early indications of climatic change (e.g., high latitude, arid to semi-arid, mid-continent, and coastal regions, relict communities, and ecotones). Research projects are conducted in land management units, where researchers compare selected ecosystems at a variety of elevations, latitudes, and climatic extremes and in areas of contrasting land uses, ranging from undisturbed wilderness areas to highly disturbed areas of resource development. Analysis and evaluation of overall ecosystem responses using key indicator species, as well as ecosystem status and trends will provide the basis for identifying human and natural forcing factors and impacts of environmental change in particular biogeographic areas.

The NPS and BLM data management requirements and systems are in place or are being implemented. Most data bases are indexed and available through the USGS and NASA. The BIA, in cooperation with the Indian Nations, monitor more than 600,000 trees in 18,000 permanent fixed-radius forest inventory plots and currently maintain records spanning 20 to 30 years.

Program Interfaces:
Data and information are available to all agencies and researchers in the USGCRP. The NPS, BLM, and Indian Nations maintain protected research areas (some in the International Network of Biosphere Reserves) that are invaluable for researchers and for developing educational programs to foster public awareness of environmental issues. Observations and data from this program improve understanding of processes in terrestrial ecosystems and the utility of models for predicting ecosystem responses at local and regional scales, including responses of ecotones. The program will provide the NPS, BLM, Tribal Governments, and other ecosystem managers, regional planners, and policy makers a basis for assessing local to regional impacts of environmental change. Partnerships and agreements are in place between DOI bureaus and with other federal agencies; various state, tribal, and foreign governments; and numerous universities. The program contributes to the development of cooperative regional ecological research with other federal, state and local agencies, private and multi-sector groups, and academic institutions.

Program Milestones:

Policy Payoffs:
Communication between researchers and managers facilitates early application of research results to resource management assessments. Important results to date address the (1) role of fire and historical climate change in forest ecosystems, (2) improved capability for modeling the effects of climate variability or change at regional scale, (3) ability of native plants in arid ecosystems to compete with exotic species that may be favored by climatic change, (4) ability of watersheds to withstand the impacts of climate change and human stress. Our research results and methods are providing baseline conditions and prototype procedures for long-term ecological monitoring that supports federal land management. Research results address the impacts of climate change and ozone depletion, biodiversity, deforestation, and desertification. Monitoring and research in controlled sensitive ecosystems provide a network for early detection of change.