Alaska Science Center
ABOUT THE ALASKA
DOI on the Landscape
Understanding and Managing for Change on the North Slope of Alaska: Wildlife Response to a Changing Landscape and its Implications for Managers
Climate patterns in the Arctic are changing, and this has led to a cascading series of physical and ecological consequences in Arctic landscapes. Because the Department of the Interior manages many lands and resources that are affected by this landscape evolution, it is incumbent upon us to understand these processes. USGS has undertaken a “proof-of-concept” effort by an interdisciplinary team to understand how physical and ecological changes influence wildlife habitat and population status. The project, funded under the USGS Terrestrial, Freshwater and Marine Ecosystems Program’s Science for the DOI Landscape Initiative, models the response of 4 species of geese in the northeast area of the National Petroleum Reserve –Alaska (NPRA). These species and this area was selected for initial study because 1) geese are important Native Alaskan subsistence resources, 2) a rare and extensive time series of aerial goose surveys has been collected by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (27 years) in NPRA, 3) the Bureau of Land Management, the USGS, and others have produced high resolution remote sensed habitat data in the area covering the 1950-s to present, 4) the study area is experiencing visible physical change, and 5) the Department has significant permitting interests related to oil and gas exploration and trust species responsibilities. Analyses indicate shifts over time in animal distributions. We hypothesize that high rates of coastline erosion and periodic storm surges have led to the breaching and salinization of lakes, which in turn has led to changes in the shoreline plant communities that geese use for feeding. Using a time series analysis of LANDSAT imageries, we documented that rates of coastline erosion have recently increased. Our data on warming permafrost temperatures support a hypothesis of increased vulnerability of tundra to erosive action. Other analyses show the geological constraints to and potential future maximum geographic extent of habitat loss. Analyses of lake water samples clearly show strong inter-lake differences in salinity. Also, temperatures in these shallow, mixed lakes are responsive to recent warming, which may be affecting productivity of these systems. We found evidence of long-term change in nearshore plant communities, and we are presently pursuing higher resolution data to address this issue. Further, we are assessing how the present distribution of geese is related to productivity and nutrient content of select plant communities. Collectively, these data will be used to model the magnitude of future erosion and saline influence on lakeshore habitats used by geese, and the consequent expected changes in distribution of geese in response to these habitat changes. Given the need to also manage the spatial distribution of petroleum development in this area, it will become increasingly important to predict where the future preferred habitats of these geese will be.
Contact: Joel Schmutz