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Scientists, planners, policy makers and other decision-makers in the South Central U.S. want to understand the potential impacts of changes in climate, precipitation, and land-use patterns on natural and cultural resources. Though the potential impacts of climate change can be modeled to help decision-makers plan for future conditions, these models rarely incorporate changes in land-use that may occur. Climate change and land-use change are often linked, as shifts in precipitation and temperature can alter patterns in human land-use activities, such as agriculture. This project sought to address this gap by developing new software tools that enable stakeholders to quickly develop custom, climate-sensitive land-use...
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The South Central U.S. is one of the main agricultural regions in North America: annual agricultural production is valued at more than $44 billion dollars. However, as climate conditions change, the region is experiencing more frequent and severe droughts, with significant impacts on agriculture and broader consequences for land management. For example, in 2011 drought caused an estimated $7.6 billion in agricultural losses in Texas and an additional $1.6 billion in Oklahoma. Although there are many drought monitoring tools available, most of these tools were developed without input from the stakeholders, such as farmers and ranchers, who are intended to use them. The goal of this project was to assess the information...
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The sky island forests of the southwestern United States are one of the most diverse temperate forest ecosystems in the world, providing key habitat for migrating and residential species alike. Black bear, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and wild turkey are just a few of the species found in these isolated mountain ecosystems that rise out of the desert landscape. However, recent droughts have crippled these ecosystems, causing significant tree death. Climate predictions suggest that this region will only face hotter and drier conditions in the future, potentially stressing these ecosystems even further. Simple models predict that vegetation will move to cooler and wetter locations in response to this warming. However,...
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The South Central U.S. encompasses a wide range of ecosystem types and precipitation patterns. Average annual precipitation is less than 10 inches in northwest New Mexico but can exceed 60 inches further east in Louisiana. Much of the region relies on warm-season convective precipitation – that is, highly localized brief but intense periods of rainfall that are common in the summer. This type of precipitation is a significant driver of climate and ecosystem function in the region, but it is also notoriously difficult to predict since it occurs at such small spatial and temporal scales. While global climate models are helpful for understanding and predicting large-scale precipitation trends, they often do not capture...
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A limited amount of valid scientific information about global climate change and its detrimental impacts has reached the public and exerted a positive impact on the public policy process or future planning for adaptation and mitigation. This project was designed to address this limitation by bringing together expertise in the social and communication sciences from targeted academic institutions affiliated with the Department of the Interior’s Climate Science Centers (CSCs) through a workshop. The project team brought together expertise in the social and communication sciences from targeted academic institutions, particularly experts and scholars who are affiliated with the nation’s CSCs, by means of an invited...
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The threat of droughts and their associated impacts on the landscape and human communities has long been recognized in the United States, especially in high risk areas such as the South Central region. There is ample literature on the effects of long-term climate change and short-term climate variability on the occurrence of droughts. However, it is unclear whether this information meets the needs of relevant stakeholders and actually contributes to reducing the vulnerability or increasing the resilience of communities to droughts. For example, are the methods used to characterize the severity of drought – known as drought indices – effective tools for predicting the actual damage felt by communities? As droughts...
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Understanding the changes in the distribution and quantity of, and demand for, water resources in response to a changing climate is essential to planning for, and adapting to, future climatic conditions. In order to plan for future conditions and challenges, it is crucial that managers understand the limitations and uncertainties associated with the characterization of these changes when making management decisions. Changes in consumptive water use (water removed without return to a water resources system) will change streamflow, impacting downstream water users, their livelihoods, as well as aquatic ecosystems. Historical changes in available water may be attributed to changes in precipitation; but these changes...
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USFWS Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) throughout the Mississippi River Basin (MRB) have identified high nutrient runoff, a major contributor to Gulf hypoxia, and declines in wildlife populations (especially grassland and riparian birds), as conservation challenges requiring collaborative action. This project aimed to develop a spatial decision support system (DSS) to address these issues. The DSS was designed to identify MRB watersheds where application of conservation practices can (1) reduce nutrient export to the Gulf hypoxia zone and (2) enhance conservation for grassland and riparian birds, based on (3) identifying landowners willing and capable of implementing these practices. The DSS is expected...
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The Rio Grande River is a critical source of freshwater for 13 million people in Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico. More than half of the Rio Grande’s streamflow originates as snowmelt in Colorado’s mountains, meaning that changes in the amount of snowmelt can impact the water supply for communities along the entire river. Snowmelt runoff is therefore an important component of water supply outlooks for the region, which are used by a variety of stakeholders to anticipate water availability in the springtime. It is critical that these water supply outlooks be as accurate as possible. Errors can cost states millions of dollars due to mis-allocation of water and lost agricultural productivity. There is a perception...
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The Ogallala Aquifer lies beneath 111 million acres of land in Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. The aquifer provides water for approximately 1.9 million people and has been instrumental in the development of the robust agriculture economy of the Great Plains region. It is also vitally important to the ecology of the region, serving as a critical source of groundwater and sustaining creeks and streams that would otherwise run dry during periods of water scarcity. However, the various social, economic, and ecological challenges of managing this aquifer are expected to increase with climate change as hotter, drier summers exacerbate already unsustainable water demands....
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Water management in the middle portion of the Rio Grande Basin (between Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico and Presidio, Texas) is challenging because water demand has continued to increase over time despite limited river water and dropping groundwater levels. While urban and agricultural users can cope with frequent droughts by using a combination of river water and pumping groundwater, little to no water reaches living river ecosystems in this region. Improving this situation requires a good understanding of river water and groundwater availability, now and in the future, as well as advantages and disadvantages of water management options to sustain these ecosystems. In particular, there is a need to determine...
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Many shorebirds and nearshore waterbirds are of conservation concern across the Gulf of Mexico due to stressors such as human disturbance, predation, and habitat loss and degradation. Conservation and protection of these birds is important for the functioning of healthy ecosystems and for maintaining biodiversity in North America. Consequently, resource managers along the gulf need decision-aiding tools that can efficiently help to answer important conservation questions for different species (e.g. which areas and how much area should be targeted by management actions to meet a particular species’ needs). To address this need, project researchers are developing statistical models that will help identify habitat...
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Spatial data depicting marsh types (e.g. fresh, intermediate, brackish and saline) for the north-central Gulf of Mexico coast are inconsistent across the region, limiting the ability of conservation planners to model the current and future capacity of the coast to sustain priority species. The goal of this study was to (1) update the resolution of coastal Texas vegetation data to match that of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and (2) update vegetation maps for the Texas through Alabama region using current Landsat Imagery. Creating consistent regional vegetation maps will enable scientists to model vegetation response to and potential impacts of future climate change.
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Wildfires scorched 10 million acres across the United States in 2015, and for the first time on record, wildfire suppression costs topped $2 billion. Wildfire danger modeling is an important tool for understanding when and where wildfires will occur, and recent work by our team in the South Central United States has shown wildfire danger models may be improved by incorporating soil moisture information. Advancements in wildfire danger modeling may increase wildfire preparedness, and therefore decrease loss of life, property, and habitat due to wildfire. Still, soil moisture—an important determinant of wildfire risk—is not currently used for wildfire danger assessments because data are generally unavailable at the...
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Freshwater mussels are an important component of freshwater ecosystems. They can filter a large amount of water, affecting both water clarity and water chemistry. Their shells provide physical habitat for other organisms, they re-direct necessary nutrients to the bottom of the water column, and their excreted material can enhance the growth of algae and macroinvertebrates. However, dramatic declines of freshwater mussels have occurred due to habitat loss, destruction and modification, pollution, and invasive species. One mussel species in Texas (Texas Hornshell) has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and several other species are candidates for listing. Changes in precipitation patterns...
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The Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout is New Mexico’s state fish; but habitat loss and non-native trout invasions threaten the persistence of this fish throughout the remaining 12% of its historic range. Stakeholders, including state agencies, federal agencies, Tribal nations, Pueblos, and private groups are particularly concerned about the impact that non-native Brown Trout have on native cutthroat trout. This project will be the first to demonstrate how non-native Brown Trout negatively affect Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout populations. The project has two primary objectives: 1) compare the health and characteristics of native Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout in areas both with and without invasive Brown Trout in cold and warm...
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Currently, maintaining appropriate flows to support biological integrity is difficult for larger riverine ecosystems. Climate change, through increased temperature, reduced rainfall, and increased rainfall intensity, is expected to reduce water availability and exacerbate the maintenance of ecological flows in the Arkansas-Red River basin. Understanding the nexus among climate change effects on streamflow, water quality, and stream ecology for watersheds in the Arkansas-Red River Basin can be achieved using currently existing science and technology. This nexus approach will strengthen adaptive-management strategies that focus on shared ecosystem conservation watershed targets. This approach will provide natural-resource...
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Habitat fragmentation, modification, and loss have been implicated in the decline of many species, including more than 85% of those considered threatened or endangered. Therefore, connectivity, or the ability of organisms to move among habitat patches, is a critical component of landscape health. In addition to influencing the sustainability of wildlife populations and communities, connectivity also contributes to the availability of ecosystem services. The goal of this project was to evaluate terrestrial connectivity across the South Central United States, with a focus on the impact of projected climate and land use changes. The researchers addressed this goal using a variety of approaches, including evaluating...
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The loss or decline of culturally significant plants is a major concern for many tribal managers. Culturally significant plants are essential to many aspects of life for tribal members, including medicine, ceremonial practices, and traditional food dishes. In many parts of the U.S., droughts, floods, and changes in the timing of frost events are stressing these plants and in some cases have led to decreases in their areas of suitable habitat or a reduction in their resistance to disease. The goal of this project is to hold a research symposium that will bring together tribal resource managers and scientists from a range of disciplines in the South Central region to identify which culturally significant species...
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The Rio Grande provides drinking water for more than six million people, irrigation water for two million acres of land in the United States and Mexico, and supports riparian ecosystems that are home to endangered species like the ocelot and Rio Grande silvery minnow. Climate variability and anthropogenic activities continue to stress this already limited water resource. This project was developed in response to a request from a group of stakeholders who work in the Basin and represent federal, state and local agencies, private industry, farmers, ranchers, and NGOs. These stakeholders identified the need for a comprehensive data resource that spatially depicts where conservation activities are occurring on the ground....


map background search result map search result map Terrestrial Connectivity Across the South Central United States: Implications for the Sustainability of Wildlife Populations and Communities Mapping Fresh, Intermediate, Brackish and Saline Marshes in the North Central Gulf of Mexico Coast to Inform Future Projections Building Capacity within the CSC Network to Effectively Deliver and Communicate Science to Resource Managers and Planners Assessing the Drivers of Water Availability for Historic and Future Conditions in the South Central U.S. Predicting Sky Island Forest Vulnerability to Climate Change: Fine Scale Climate Variability, Drought Tolerance, and Fire Response Understanding the Nexus between Climate, Streamflow, Water Quality, and Ecology in the Arkansas-Red River Basin Improving Representation of Extreme Precipitation Events in Regional Climate Models Community Resilience to Drought Hazard: An Analysis of Drought Exposure, Impacts, and Adaptation in the South Central U.S. Developing Effective Drought Monitoring Tools for Farmers and Ranchers in the South Central U.S. Science to Assess Future Conservation Practices for the Mississippi River Basin Developing Tools for Improved Water Supply Forecasting in the Rio Grande Headwaters Building a Decision-Support Tool for Assessing the Impacts of Climate and Land Use  Change on Ecological Processes Identifying Conservation Objectives for the Gulf Coast Habitats of the Black Skimmer and Gull-billed Tern Wildfire Probability Mapping Based on Regional Soil Moisture Models Susceptibility of Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout to Displacement by Non-Native Brown Trout and Implications for Future Management Mapping Conservation Management Efforts to Increase Coordination in the Rio Grande Basin Assessing the Impacts of Rapid Rainfall Shifts (“Whiplashes” and “Boomerangs”) on Freshwater Mussels in Central Texas Understanding New Paradigms for “Environmental Flows” and Water Allocation in the Middle Rio Grande River Basin in a Changing Climate Organizing and Synthesizing Ogallala Aquifer Data to Facilitate Research and Resource Management Research Symposium: Culturally Significant Plants and Climate Change Developing Tools for Improved Water Supply Forecasting in the Rio Grande Headwaters Predicting Sky Island Forest Vulnerability to Climate Change: Fine Scale Climate Variability, Drought Tolerance, and Fire Response Mapping Fresh, Intermediate, Brackish and Saline Marshes in the North Central Gulf of Mexico Coast to Inform Future Projections Understanding New Paradigms for “Environmental Flows” and Water Allocation in the Middle Rio Grande River Basin in a Changing Climate Understanding the Nexus between Climate, Streamflow, Water Quality, and Ecology in the Arkansas-Red River Basin Identifying Conservation Objectives for the Gulf Coast Habitats of the Black Skimmer and Gull-billed Tern Assessing the Impacts of Rapid Rainfall Shifts (“Whiplashes” and “Boomerangs”) on Freshwater Mussels in Central Texas Susceptibility of Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout to Displacement by Non-Native Brown Trout and Implications for Future Management Mapping Conservation Management Efforts to Increase Coordination in the Rio Grande Basin Wildfire Probability Mapping Based on Regional Soil Moisture Models Building Capacity within the CSC Network to Effectively Deliver and Communicate Science to Resource Managers and Planners Improving Representation of Extreme Precipitation Events in Regional Climate Models Community Resilience to Drought Hazard: An Analysis of Drought Exposure, Impacts, and Adaptation in the South Central U.S. Building a Decision-Support Tool for Assessing the Impacts of Climate and Land Use  Change on Ecological Processes Research Symposium: Culturally Significant Plants and Climate Change Assessing the Drivers of Water Availability for Historic and Future Conditions in the South Central U.S. Developing Effective Drought Monitoring Tools for Farmers and Ranchers in the South Central U.S. Terrestrial Connectivity Across the South Central United States: Implications for the Sustainability of Wildlife Populations and Communities Organizing and Synthesizing Ogallala Aquifer Data to Facilitate Research and Resource Management Science to Assess Future Conservation Practices for the Mississippi River Basin