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USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative

Black BrantIn 2007, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) was asked by the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a series of analyses to help reduce uncertainty in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing decision for the polar bear.  The USGS produced a series of reports for the Secretary, including projections of the future population trends of polar bears.  These projections were supported by a strong foundation in empirical data from long-term USGS studies of the southern Beaufort Sea polar bear population.  The Department of the Interior (DOI) saw a need to conduct similar analyses for other species of interest in the ice-dominated ecosystems of the Arctic.  The USGS thus broadened analytical studies to several species and habitats, thus beginning the USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative.  The initiative formally began in 2010 with a suite of new studies focused on the Marine Ecosystem, and the Terrestrial Ecosystems of the Arctic Coastal Plain and the Boreal-Arctic Transition Zone in northwestern Alaska.  In 2016, work was initiated in western Alaska (primarily on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta) to quantify response of wildlife and their habitats to changes taking place in the region.

The USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative will enhance the long-term science foundation needed to address many critical resource concerns now and into the future, including:

  • Information on wildlife species and their responses to ecosystem change in the Arctic to inform management decisions related to development of oil, gas and mineral resources on Bureau of Land Management lands and on the Outer Continental Shelf managed by Bureau of Ocean Energy Management;
  • Forecasting and mapping products to assist DOI land managers with their natural resource decision-making in the Arctic;
  • Data and forecasting tools to inform critical DOI actions related to regulation or policy, such as related to the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, native subsistence and co-management actions;
  • Projections of habitat change and potential species responses to help agencies design new monitoring protocols or modify strategies to support adaptive management in a changing Arctic.

Research Plan

The following USGS paper provides a conceptual framework for this initiative and introduces examples for developing wildlife forecasts useful to management decisions.

Van Hemert, C. R., P. L. Flint, M. S. Udevitz, J. C. Koch, T. C. Atwood, K. L. Oakley, and J. A. Pearce. 2015. Forecasting wildlife response to rapid warming in the Alaskan Arctic. BioScience 65:718-728. doi: 10.1093/biosci/biv069 [Details] [Full Publication]

See here for USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems FY2015-2019 Research Work Plan

USGS Fact Sheets


Geiselman, J. A., A. R. DeGange, K. L. Oakley, D. V. Derksen, and M. E. Whalen. 2011. Changing Arctic ecosystems - Research to understand and project changes in marine and terrestrial ecosystems of the Arctic. USGS Fact Sheet 2011-3136, 4 p. [Details] [Full Publication]

Marine Ecosystem:

Oakley, K. L., T. C. Atwood, D. C. Douglas, K. D. Rode, and M. E. Whalen. 2015. Changing Arctic Ecosystems: Updated forecast: Reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions required to improve polar bear outlook. 2015-3042, 2 p. doi:10.3133/fs20153042 [Details] [Full Publication] [PDF file 656 kb]

Oakley, K. L., M. E. Whalen, D. C. Douglas, M. S. Udevitz, T. C. Atwood, and C. V. Jay. 2012. Changing Arctic Ecosystems: Polar bear and walrus response to the rapid decline in Arctic sea ice. USGS Fact Sheet 2012-3131, 4 p. [Details] [Full Publication]

Arctic Coastal Plain:

Hupp, J. W., D. H. Ward, M. E. Whalen, and J. M. Pearce. 2015. Changing Arctic ecosystems—What is causing the rapid increase of Snow Geese in northern Alaska?. USGS Fact Sheet 2015-3062, 2 p. doi:10.3133/fs20153062 [Details] [Full Publication]

Gustine, D. D., L. G. Adams, M. E. Whalen, and J. M. Pearce. 2014. Changing Arctic Ecosystems–Resilience of caribou to climatic shifts in the Arctic. USGS Fact Sheet 2014-3103, 2 p. doi:10.3133/fs20143103 [Details] [Full Publication]

Uher-Koch, B. D., J. A. Schmutz, M. E. Whalen, and J. M. Pearce. 2014. Changing Arctic Ecosystems - Ecology of loons in a changing Arctic. USGS Fact Sheet 2014–3093, 2 p. doi:10.3133/fs20143093 [Details] [Full Publication]

Flint, P. L., M. E. Whalen, and J. M. Pearce. 2014. Changing Arctic Ecosystems - Sea ice decline, permafrost thaw, and benefits for geese. USGS Fact Sheet 2014–3088, 2 p. doi:10.3133/fs20143088 [Details] [Full Publication]

Pearce, J. M., A. R. DeGange, P. L. Flint, T. F. Fondell, D. D. Gustine, L. E. Holland-Bartels, A. G. Hope, J. W. Hupp, J. C. Koch, J. A. Schmutz, S. L. Talbot, D. H. Ward, and M. E. Whalen. 2012. Changing Arctic Ecosystems - Measuring and forecasting the response of Alaska's terrestrial ecosystem to a warming climate. USGS Fact Sheet 2012-3144, 4 p. [Details] [Full Publication]

Boreal-Arctic Transition Zone:

McNew, L. B., C. M. Handel, J. M. Pearce, A. R. DeGange, L. E. Holland-Bartels, and M. E. Whalen. 2013. Changing Arctic Ecosystems - The role of ecosystem changes across the Boreal-Arctic transition zone on the distribution and abundance of wildlife populations. USGS Fact Sheet 2013-3054, 2 p. [Details] [Full Publication]


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