Three Northeast ecosystems: wetlands, CT river valley, Stellwagen bank

Renewed commitment to climate change leadership

NE CASC continues to bring climate science to resource managers for informed decision-making 

September 27, 2019

The U.S. Department of the Interior has renewed its support for the Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center (NE CASC) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a five-year, $4.5 million commitment as the host campus for its six-member consortium of universities, says center co-director professor Richard Palmer. The Northeast region ranges from Maine to Wisconsin and Maryland to Missouri. 

 

Scientists affiliated with the center provide federal, state and other agencies with region-specific results of targeted research on the effects of climate change on ecosystems, wildlife, water and other resources. These are used in resource management and planning. The new agreement continues Interior’s original seven-year, $11 million grant to the NE CASC at UMass Amherst that began in  2011. 

One of the web-based tools created by the NE CASC is the Regional Invasive Species and Climate Change (RISCC) Management project, which helps invasive species managers through working groups, information-sharing and targeted research. 

Like many of the center’s projects, RISCC started with a survey of natural resource managers to identify their major concerns and questions, to directly address their needs. They named range-shifting invasive species as one of their top research priorities, says RISCC co-leader Bethany Bradley, associate professor of environmental conservation at UMass Amherst and a co-principal investigator of NE CASC. 

She says, “Many species are shifting their ranges with climate change, including invasive species. Our previous research identified the Northeast as a hotspot of future plant invasion; that means up to 100 new invasive species are likely to be arriving in coming decades, introduced from states to our south.” Monitoring for 100 new species is an insurmountable task for most wildlife and resource managers, she adds. “They already have very little time they can allocate to monitoring.” 

To address this, she and colleagues used a new impacts assessment method to identify the highest-impact range-shifting species, which narrowed the list from 100 to about 10. “One of our goals for the next year is to bring together a working group of representatives from Northeast state invasive species councils to figure out how we can work together to prevent these species from being introduced and develop plans for proactive management,” Bradley adds. 

NE CASC co-director Palmer says the center’s renewal means it can continue helping natural resource managers with detailed information relevant to their specific area and to the particular problems they face with climate change effects on fish and wildlife, or the effects of rising sea levels or floods. A major goal is to provide a sound foundation for decision-making and risk management. 

He points out, “The NE CASC ensures that natural resource managers have access to the best available climate science to make important management decisions. We can help them to incorporate climate science in evaluating and planning for the future health of wildlife, fish, forests, and habitats.” 

NE CASC scientists have given hundreds of talks and seminars over the past seven years, contributed to more than 200 publications and have created 24 web-based interactive tools that are used by dozens of wildlife ecologists, state agencies, tribes, town planning boards and local conservation groups, says Jon Woodruff, associate professor of geosciences and a co-principal investigator of NE CASC. It offers newsletters and webinars to circulate research news, tools and opportunities. 

Another NE CASC project is aimed at conservation of cold-water fish. Cold-loving trout will attempt to move upstream as temperatures rise, but summer drought might result in empty stream beds. NE CASC has helped conservation groups decide how to best protect streams, maintain flow, and keep fish cool and connected. 

Other significant NE CASC accomplishments to date include: 

  • Through a partnership with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, NE CASC researchers provided a standard, peer-reviewed set of projections that show how the climate is likely to change in Massachusetts through the end of this century. This is to help municipalities, industry, organizations, state agencies and others anticipate such things as temperature or precipitation change and sea level rise. 

  • NE CASC researchers examined ecological impacts of the emerald ash borer on black ash forests. They designed large-scale experiments and documented impacts of black ash mortality on ecosystem processes and wildlife communities and evaluated mitigation and adaptation strategies under future scenarios. 

  • NE CASC researchers developed a model to assess ecosystems and their capacity to sustain wildlife populations in the Northeast as it faces urban growth, climate change, sea-level rise and other stresses. This led to “Connect the Connecticut,” a tool that helps to identify priority areas for strategic habitat conservation in the Connecticut River watershed. 

The NE CASC is one of eight established by the Interior Department since 2009. In addition to host UMass Amherst, the NE CASC consortium includes the universities of Vermont, Missouri, Wisconsin, Cornell University and the College of Menominee Nation in Keshena, Wisconsin. Also eligible for funding through NE CASC are Columbia University, Woods Hole Research Center and Michigan State University. 

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