Forecasting the Effects of Stressors on At-Risk Species

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Modeling tool helps land managers sustain training activities and meet stewardship responsibilities by simulating responses of at-risk species to multiple, interacting stressors.

  • Dr. Joshua Lawler, University of Washington  Forecasting the Relative and Cumulative Effects of Multiple Stressors on At-Risk Populations

DoD land managers face the dual responsibility of meeting the national security mission and stewardship responsibilities. DoD is one of the nation’s largest federal land managers and is responsible for managing more species at risk per acre than any other federal agency. If populations decline, both the military’s ability to use training ranges and the nation’s biologic treasures are put at risk.

At-risk species often face multiple interacting threats or stressors, such as invasive species, pollution, habitat loss and fragmentation, and disease. In the coming years, climate change will be a significant additional stressor. Land managers have traditionally addressed potential environmental stressors one at a time. But, given the complexity and potential interactions of these stressors, that one-at-a-time method is no longer effective.

To improve management of species facing multiple threats, Dr. Joshua Lawler and colleagues have developed a flexible, spatially explicit population model designed to simulate a wide range of species in complex and changing landscapes. They applied this model to three at-risk populations on three military installations—the red-cockaded woodpecker at Fort Benning, Georgia; the desert tortoise at Fort Irwin, California; and the black-capped vireo at Fort Hood, Texas—to investigate the effects of climate change, land-use change, military training, invasive species, and disease. These case studies provide critical insights into the importance of multiple interacting threats.

This research advances the ability to forecast the effects of multiple, interacting stressors and provides a practical modeling tool for DoD land managers. This tool will enhance the military’s ability to manage plant and animal populations while sustaining training and other essential activities today and in the future as we learn to adapt to climate change.

For this work, Dr. Lawler received a Project-of-the-Year award at the annual Partners in Environmental Technology Technical Symposium & Workshop held November 29 –December 1, 2011, in Washington, D.C.  

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