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North Atlantic LCC Science in the Spotlight

North Atlantic LCC Work Featured at Northeast Fish and Wildlife Conference

Conservation assessment and planning work sponsored by the North Atlantic LCC was featured prominently at the 70th Annual Northeast Fish and Wildlife Conference, which was held in Portland, Maine in April 2014. Presentations and posters covered topics such as identifying priority conservation areas for reptiles and amphibians, mapping and modeling the location of vernal pools used by wetland-dependent wildlife, and understanding the regional-scale influences of stream temperature and stream temperature on brook trout.

Presentation at Joint Northeast Wildlife and Fish Administrators Meeting

Northeast LCC's Progress and Conservation Design

Andrew Milliken North Atlantic LCC and Mike Slattery, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

North Atlantic LCC Coordinator Andrew Milliken provided a briefing on the North Atlantic and Appalachian LCCs at a joint meeting of the Northeast Fisheries and Northeast Wildlife Administrators at the Northeast Fish and Wildlife Conference.  He reviewed the progress of the LCCs and next steps related to science delivery and landscape conservation design at multiple scales in the region.  For the regional scale, he described the synthesis of regional information for informing State Wildlife Action Plan Updates and Regional Conservation Opportunity Areas.  For the landscape scale, he described the pilot landscape conservation design work in the Connecticut River Watershed.  Mike Slattery, Chesapeake Bay Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service followed that presentation with one describing how conservation design could work at a sub-regional scale in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.  He will be working with Chesapeake Bay states and partners to form a Chesapeake Habitat Conservation Design Team this summer starting with meetings with each state fish and wildlife agency.  The ideas presented in these presentations are further addressed in a white paper on the multiple scales of conservation planning presented to the steering committee on April 16. 

Talks about Work Supported by the North Atlantic LCC

Assessing priority amphibian and reptile conservation areas (PARCAs) in the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative

Allison T. Moody, Cynthia Loftin, Phillip deMaynadier, William Sutton, Kyle Barrett, Priya Nanjappa

Reptile and amphibian populations are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change, pollution, disease, illegal collection, and introduced species. Yet formulating conservation solutions is limited by a lack of information about their population status and distributions. The Priority Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Area (PARCA) project is a national initiative to develop a network of non-regulatory focus areas that contain specialized habitats required by reptiles and amphibians, and that are resilient to climate change. Comprehensive surveys rarely document species distributions across large regions such as the northeastern U.S., and opportunistic observations can be biased towards easily seen or heard species in accessible areas. As a pilot project for the northeastern United States, we used presence-only species distribution models, expert-derived biotic and abiotic variables, and local expert review to identify PARCAs in Maine that host species of global, national, or regional conservation significance, and areas of exceptional diversity. PARCAs with extensive, contiguous habitat that can support viable populations were given extra weight in the prioritization process. We evaluated our models using area under the curve (AUC) metrics and our predicted species distribution models performed well. Generally, we found PARCAs were focused in southern Maine because many priority species are at their northern range limit in the state. Our PARCAs provide a useful tool to raise public awareness and spark voluntary protection by local conservation partners.

The North Atlantic Vernal Pool Data Cooperative: Compiling and Modeling Location Data for Conservation Planning

Dan Lambert, Steven Faccio, Kent McFarland, Jarlath O’Neil-Dunne, Sean MacFaden, and Ernest Buford

The first step in developing effective conservation strategies for vernal pools and associated wildlife species is to know where on the landscape these small wetlands exist. Organized mapping efforts have occurred in several states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, however these projects have used varying methods to identify pool locations. Additional data are scattered among non-governmental organizations, universities, herp atlas projects, natural resource agencies, municipalities, forestry professionals, and environmental consultants. Assembling information into a single, comprehensive GIS dataset could help advance vernal pool conservation and promote collaboration among vernal pool stakeholders. This presentation will introduce the Vernal Pool Data Cooperative (VPDC), a new conservation mapping and planning project funded by the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative. Beginning this year, VPDC partners will compile potential and verified vernal pool locations in all or part of thirteen states and four Canadian provinces. This database will provide a common framework for: organizing observational and geospatial data; visualizing and analyzing information; and cataloguing data sources, field methods, and use restrictions. The VPDC will also develop a method to identify potential vernal pools using Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology and object-based image analysis, a technique that focuses on meaningful landscape objects rather than individual pixels. Once validated and refined, this remote-sensing approach may be used to fill geospatial data gaps and guide landscape-level conservation planning.

Stream flow and temperature effects on salmonid population dynamics: integrated modeling across scales and data types

Benjamin H. Letcher, Yoichiro Kanno, Keith H. Nislow, Paul Schueller, Ronald Bassar, Ana Rosner, Jason A. Coombs, Krzysztof Sakrejda, Michael Morrissey, Douglas Sigourney, Andrew Whiteley, Matthew O'Donnell, Todd Dubreuil

A major challenge in ecology is developing robust models of population response to environmental change that work well across space. In the last decade, researchers have begun developing so-called integrated models that attempt to bridge the gap between specificity and generality by combining data sources into a single modeling framework. We present results from an integrated effort aimed at understanding how brook trout respond to variation in stream flow and temperature. Integrating data from presence/absence surveys, abundance surveys and mark-recapture studies, we identified that dynamics are dominated by egg/fry survival and that high flow in the autumn and low flow in the winter increase recruitment. Also, adult survival was positively correlated with spring temperature. Results from all three data sources generally agreed in magnitude and direction of environmental effects, strengthening confidence in inferences. These relationships between environmental variation and population dynamics generate response surfaces that can be used to forecast future population dynamics in response to environmental change.

An Evaluation of Northeast Terrestrial and Aquatic Habitats

Mark G. Anderson, Arlene Olivero Sheldon, Melissa Clark, Charles Ferree, Katherine Weaver and Alex Jospe

This year the Nature Conservancy, in conjunction with the State Agencies and US Fish and Wildlife, released maps, guides, and condition information on 124 habitats found in the Northeast. Each habitat was mapped across its range, and characterized with respect to its vegetation, ecological setting, similar habitat types and associated wildlife or species of concern. We also summarized information on the habitat?s acreage and protection levels within each state. Finally we evaluated each habitat across its entire range for condition factors such as predicted loss to development, habitat patch size, amount of core area, stand age, and other factors. For aquatic systems we summarize the number of dams, length of connected network, impervious surfaces in the watershed and other factors. In this presentation we will present the findings from this study and highlight the habitats that are most in need of conservation attention.

Posters about Work Supported by the North Atlantic LCC

 A New Tool to Assess the Condition Northeast Terrestrial and Aquatic Habitats 

Mark Anderson, Melissa Clark, Charles Ferree, Alexandra Jospe, Arlene Olivero Sheldon

We created a GIS tool to assess the condition of 116 terrestrial and aquatic habitats assesses in the Northeast at state and regional scales. The tool is based on the newly released Northeast Terrestrial Habitat Map and the Northeast Aquatic Habitat Classification and their accompanying datasets. It allows each habitat to be evaluated across its entire range in the region or within a single state for condition factors such as predicted loss to development, securement from development, forest stand age, habitat patch size, amount of core are and others. For aquatic systems users can summarize the number of dams, length of connected network, impervious surfaces in the watershed and other factors. The poster will illustrate how the tool works and summarize some of the findings for the 14 ecological condition metrics and comparative results of the metric as applied to the terrestrial and aquatic habitats.

Northeast Aquatic Habitat Guides: A Companion to the Aquatic Habitat Classification 

Mark Anderson, Charles Ferree, Alexandra Jospe, Arlene Olivero, Katherine Weaver

With this habitat classification project, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and its partners, the Association of Northeast Fish and Wildlife Agencies, NatureServe, the Natural Heritage Programs, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, have made huge strides in creating a common language for the conservation of our shared natural habitats. The aquatic habitat classification project and its offspring - the regional maps, datasets, and guide - now provide a common base for characterizing wildlife habitats across states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Our team of scientists used size, gradient, geology, temperature, and tidal regime to define a major set of stream and river habitat types. This simplified stream classification yielded a flexible set of habitat types at an appropriate level of detail for a regional habitat guide. This poster will describe the habitat classification process and explain the information provided on each factsheet in the guide including distribution, level of securement, associated wildlife, crosswalks to state names, and other condition information. The habitat guides are intended to promote an understanding of aquatic biodiversity patterns across the region and facilitate interstate communication about habitats, not to replace or override state classifications.

Northeast Terrestrial Habitat Guides: A Companion to the Terrestrial Habitat Map

Mark Anderson, Melissa Clark, Charles Ferree, Alexandra Jospe, Arlene Olivero, Katherine Weaver

Creating a common language for the conservation of our shared natural habitats is important to understanding and protecting these habitats. The Terrestrial Habitat Map and its offspring - the regional maps, datasets, and guide - now provide a common base for characterizing wildlife habitats across states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, that is consistent across states and with other regional classification and mapping efforts. Partnering with the Northeast State Fish and Wildlife Agencies and the North Atlantic LCC, The Nature Conservancy has created a guide to the terrestrial habitats the northeastern United States, based on the Terrestrial Habitat Map. The map and underlying classification will facilitate interstate communication about habitats, offer managers a tool for understanding regional biodiversity patterns, and allow for more effective habitat conservation across the region. This poster will describe the process for creating the terrestrial habitat map and then go into detail about the habitat guides. The habitat guides provide key statistics about the status and distribution of each habitat, and gave 

an overall view of what the habitat looks like, what species live there, where one could go to see it, and some indication of its condition. Each of 109 final fact sheets in the habitat guide describe one habitat, showing its regional distribution, level of securement, associated wildlife, crosswalks to state names, and other condition information.

Application of the Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS) to the Northwest Atlantic

Katherine J. Weaver, Emily J. Shumchenia, Kathryn H. Ford, Mark A. Rousseau, Jennifer K. Greene, Mark G. Anderson, John W. King

In the Northeast United States region, efforts are underway to better organize and integrate spatial marine data to support ocean planning and management efforts. An important step in this process is translating existing data with varying purposes, sources, methodologies, and optimal scales of application to a common language, so heterogeneous data can be viewed in a common, region-wide framework to better facilitate decision-making. The need for an inclusive and standardized approach to classifying marine habitats throughout the United States has resulted in the development of the Coastal Marine and Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS). CMECS provides a common language in which the terminology of existing schemes can be consistently crosswalked to a common schema. This project tests the utility of the classification standard in crosswalking and mapping legacy classified benthic habitat data at the regional, subregional and local scales. The results of this project will be useful in understanding how the standard can be used to maximize the utility of existing data and in developing methods to aid in crosswalking. In this project we crosswalked 40 existing classification schemes to CMECS, and provided maps for a select few schemes/datasets. We also created a working list of Northwest Atlantic United States habitats representative of a wide range of marine environments throughout the region, and give recommendations for crosswalking and mapping challenges when using CMECS.

Other Work of Interest or Related to the North Atlantic LCC

Using Seabirds to Track Ecosystem Change in the Gulf of Maine

Linda Welch, Sara Williams, Michael Langlois, and Christa DeRaspe

For the past 30 years, Maine Coastal Islands NWR (MCINWR), National Audubon Society, and Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife have documented annual population levels, productivity rates, diet composition and feeding rates on 11 managed seabird colonies in Maine. While extensive data has been collected at the colonies, we know very little about the at-sea ecology of birds in the Gulf of Maine. While seabird must return to land to raise their young, they spend the majority of their time at sea foraging for themselves or their chicks. As a result, seabirds are intimately linked to physical and biological characteristics of marine ecosystems. Seabirds need persistent aggregations of prey to be located within commuting distance of their breeding colonies. Recently, seabird managers have observed what appear to be significant changes in forage fish abundance and availability for breeding seabirds. Several colonies have abandoned or experienced complete reproductive failure due to lack of available forage fish. Seabirds are more easily observed, counted, and studied than other marine organisms and changes in ecosystem function will be evident in these upper trophic level predators. MCINWR has begun using satellite tags and coded radio tags to try and determine where the birds are foraging, and what habitat characteristics are associated with those foraging areas. We believe that integrating our monitoring efforts at the breeding colonies, our remote tracking studies, and ongoing at-sea monitoring efforts will demonstrate that seabirds are a vital tool for understanding change within the Gulf of Maine ecosystem.

Predicting Effects of Future Human Population Growth and Development on a Territorial Forest Songbird: Small Declines in Occupancy Equates to Large Declines in Landscape Carrying Capacity


Michelle L. Brown, Therese M. Donovan, Gregory S. Warrington, W. Scott Schwenk, David M. Theobald

Projected increases in human population growth are expected to increase forest loss and fragmentation in the next century at the expense of forest-dwelling wildlife species. In the face of increased development, managers need a spatial quantitative metric to inform decisions that benefit wildlife. We used maximum clique analysis to calculate the landscape carrying capacity, Nk, across the northeastern states of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, USA for the forest-dependent Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla). We classified the year 2000 landscape into four land cover classes based on human housing density: urban, suburban, exurban, and rural development. We sampled each land cover class and estimated Ovenbird Nk from occupancy probability maps for the years 2000 and 2050. The forecasted occupancy maps represented landscape conditions in the year 2050 derived from spatially-explicit growth models. In response to human population growth and development, Nk was predicted to decrease 44% in the landscape classified as exurban development, 25% in urban and suburban development, and 14% in rural development. These decreases far exceeded the decreases in occupancy probabilities that ranged between 3% and 5% across the same sampled sites. Maximum clique analysis is a tool that can be used to estimate a species population metric, Nk, and provide decision-makers with straightforward information to inform decisions and communicate with stakeholders.


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