U.S. Government Plans to Study Climate Change Impacts on Wildlife

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The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) announced last week (30 March 2010) that it's initiating several new research projects on climate change impacts on wildlife. Seventeen new projects through the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center will be funded to help understand future climate change conditions and their impacts on wildlife and habitat. Topics will include the impacts of climate change on Florida’s ecosystems, western trout and salmon, San Francisco Bay marshes, and other issues. 

The Department of the Interior (DOI) (the parent agency of the USGS) recently established 8 regional Climate Science Centers as part of a broader DOI strategy to address climate change effects on the nation’s fish, water, land, wildlife and cultural resources (see, Dept. of Interior launches first-ever strategy to address current and future U.S. climate impacts, WWF blog). The USGS projects will generate important scientific information for these centers, which will provide tools, techniques and information for managing land, wildlife, water and resources that face a changing climate. Below are four excerpts of projects from the USGS announcement. For a full list of the projects, see National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center's website.

Brook Trout, glaciers in Denali Nat'l Park, Lynx, Snowshoe Hare

Trout and Salmon at Risk in the West
Some native trout and salmon populations in the western United States are at risk for extinction, with many proposed for or listed under the Endangered Species Act. The recovery of these species is a challenge as climate change is likely to raise water temperatures, alter wildfire occurrences, and increase demand for water resources. USGS scientists are studying how climate change will influence fish habitats and providing data to managers to help them assess extinction risks and develop appropriate response strategies.

Are Melting Glaciers Disturbing Alaska’s Flow?
As the climate changes and glaciers melt, the flow of freshwater in the Gulf of Alaska is altered, and impacts are felt across coastal ecosystems. For example, fish feed on phytoplankton and zooplankton and these organisms could be negatively affected as increased water flows bring higher levels of iron and nitrate. Scientists are studying these processes and impacts, with particular focus on the Copper River, which relies on nearby mountain glaciers and is the Gulf’s largest freshwater source.

Camouflage Trying to Keep Up with Climate Change
Many species undergo a seasonal change of coat color to match the presence or absence of snow. As the climate changes and snowpack declines, species may have white coats on non-snowy backgrounds. One species impacted by this is the snowshoe hare, which are prey for the federally threatened Canada lynx. Animals could face population decline or respond by adapting or moving. USGS scientists are tracking snowshoe hares to evaluate their responses, using data to make projections for the next 30 to 50 years.

Climate on the Move: Where Will It Go
What if managers could map where climate conditions will likely occur in the future? Or visualize how habitats will respond and move? USGS scientists are working to make this happen, helping to protect our nation’s natural resources. They are creating climate models for North America and smaller scaled models for the contiguous United States and Alaska. Data will be incorporated into an online Web interface where managers can download information and produce maps of future climate conditions.

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