An important aspect of being strategic in conservation planning efforts is to incorporate expectations of possible future conditions – both in terms of opportunities and threats.
Restoration Opportunities: The Ecological Potential Vegetation Model
The landscape of the Central Hardwoods Bird Conservation Region (CHBCR) has changed dramatically over the past 200 years as a result of fire suppression, timber harvest, wetland drainage, land clearance for agriculture, and urbanization. Conserving the bird populations that rely on the CHBCR will require protecting and restoring the habitats on which these species depend. To guide restoration efforts, conservation planners need to know where different vegetation types were once found and where restoration efforts are ecologically most likely to succeed. This project (link to O’Brien et al. report) brought together community ecologists from across the CHBCR to identify the appropriate natural vegetation community for each site in the BCR based on abiotic factors (e.g. slope, aspect) and biotic factors (e.g. soils, solar radiation). Eleven natural communities have been mapped across the CHBCR (EPV Map Figure). The CHJV is using the model to estimate total restoration opportunity (area) within landscapes, as well as to develop guidelines for restoration efforts (e.g. vegetation parameters).
The growing human population in the United States poses a serious challenge for conservation efforts. Indeed, urbanization is the primary driver of land use change in the CHBCR. The CHJV recognized that spatially-explicit predictions of the impact of future development on species were lacking, and that such information was needed to provide science-based decision support to conservation and land use planners. This project used information on current (2000) and projected (2030) Housing Density data for census blocks developed by the Silvis Lab at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The Housing Density data were combined with Breeding Bird Survey data in a modeling framework to predict the potential changes to land use composition and bird populations within three BCRs in the south-central United States. The CHJV is using these results to guide implementation planning efforts for forest and woodland species. The CHJV is also working with the Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozarks Landscape Conservation Cooperative to assess the applicability of longer term projections of urbanization probability being produced by the Southeast Climate Science Center at NC State.
The CHJV is partnering with the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS), the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Experiment Station, the University of Missouri, and the Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozarks Landscape Conservation Cooperative to investigate the potential impact of climate change on forests, birds, and other wildlife in the CHBCR. The project will use a forest process model called LANDIS PRO to model scenarios based on different climate projections and management regimes to examine potential changes in tree species composition. Results from LANDIS PRO will feed into habitat suitability models for birds and other wildlife, as well as viability models for Wood Thrush and Prairie Warbler.