Ecological Forecasting of Forest Communities

Ecologists understand that plants and animals coexist within communities and are bound together by a complex network of interactions. What affects one species in a biological community also affects others in ways that influence an ecosystem’s health and function. Climate change disrupts these interactions because different plants or animals are affected differently. Such changes can cause a ripple effect within a community, causing unanticipated and disruptive changes. Dr. Jim Clark understands that to anticipate consequences of climate change, we must understand its effect on a biological community in totality.

To this end, Dr. Clark and colleagues have embarked on a novel study that combines data from the National Ecological Observation Network (NEON); information on the abundance and distribution of insects, vascular plants, small mammals, and birds. They will combine these data with information regarding their food supply, in the form of shrubs and trees (and their nuts, seeds, buds, or fruits that are eaten by wildlife), as well as large mammal surveys. Airborne remote-sensing using a hyperspectral imaging spectrometer, LiDAR and a high-resolution Red, Blue Green (RGB) camera will be used to capture images that characterize habitat diversity. They will assemble these large data sets and apply mathematical models to forecast community change and reorganization in response to climate change. This study offers a framework for synthesizing environmental and biological data to inform the general public, scientists and policy makers about the large-scale impact of climate change. Importantly, data will be shared across the scientific community for integration into other studies to further advance the mitigation and adaptation strategies critical for coping with climate change and its effect on humans and the environment.

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