Alaska Science Center
Boreal-Arctic Transition Zone
Understanding The Role Of Ecosystem Changes Across The Boreal-Arctic Transition Zone On The Distribution And Abundance Of Wildlife Communities
This research examines wildlife response in the Boreal-Arctic Transition Zone, which is expected to be one of the most dynamically changing zones in the far north. Alaska’s boreal forest grows near the physiological limits of trees, is underlain primarily by discontinuous permafrost, and is an environment particularly sensitive to changes in temperature, precipitation, and permafrost loss. Fire is a primary driver of vegetation change in this region, and is expected to continue as an important ecological process in the future. Changes in hydrological processes influenced by degradation of permafrost have broad-scale effects on the extent and structure of wetlands. This combination of processes may cause unprecedented shifts in landscape biogeography throughout the present boreal region over the next century. Understanding such processes is critical to structuring and constraining forecasts of potential new landscapes and associated wildlife of Arctic and boreal ecosystems.
Our work is developing a community-level understanding of ecosystem changes and, with its focus on the Arctic-Boreal transition zone, it should elucidate wildlife-ecosystem relationships that could help forecast responses both in regions farther north and farther south, as landscape change factors such as climate warming progress. The initial emphasis is on landbirds and shorebirds. They are useful indicators because they are widely distributed, sampled by similar methods, and occupy a wide variety of habitats including wetlands, forests, and shrublands. This helps us understand the “what” and focus attention on the various “why” factors central to the Changing Arctic Ecosystem Initiative.
Projects are 1) Assessing existing population changes; 2) Evaluating ecological drivers of population change; and 3) Developing scenarios of future abundance and distribution within both the Boreal and Arctic Coastal Plain systems.