Terrestrial Ecosystems

Advance an integrated, landscape-scale understanding of Arctic terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems and the potential for future change

Arctic terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems are rapidly changing in response to a variety of forcing factors, including a changing climate, alterations in natural disturbance regimes, and human-caused perturbations (Bernhardt et al. 2011; Bunn and Goetz 2006; Chapin et al. 2010; Epstein et al. 2010; Hill and Henry 2011; Johnstone et al. 2010; Jorgenson et al. 2010; Kim et al. 2012; Myers-Smith et al. 2006, 2011). In turn, these environmental changes are altering a number of important goods, services, and other contributions Arctic ecosystems provide to society, including critical plant and animal populations and their habitats, biotic resources essential to subsistence lifestyles and cultures, and feedbacks to regional and global climate systems (Joly et al. 2006; Kofinas et al. 2010; Noel et al. 2004; Tape et al.

2016). Of particular interest are the broader impacts of ongoing changes to the natural fire regime (Higuera et al. 2008; Jones et al. 2013; Kasischke et al. 2010; Kelly et al. 2013), the potential feedback of these changes to climate (Kasischke and Hoy 2012; Mack et al. 2011; Randerson et al. 2006; Rocha et al. 2012), and impacts on the health and well-being of Arctic residents (Yue et al. 2015). Continuing investment to improve understanding of the causes and consequences of changes to terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems provides needed information for all four IARPC policy drivers, as they are a key component of the Arctic environment (Stewardship and Security), provide important feedbacks to the climate (Arctic-Global System), and provide key ecosystem services that contribute to the health and well-being of Arctic residents (Well-being).

A wide range of ongoing research, inventory, and monitoring activities across Federal agencies in the Arctic focuses on understanding how ecosystems and humans are responding to recent environmental changes. In many cases these activities are being carried out to address priority management needs. Understanding how the growing extent and intensity of environmental changes will impact Arctic ecosystems and societies requires continued and expanded research in three areas:

  1. Understanding of and ability to model feedbacks and interactions among causes of environmental change and the responses of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems, particularly hydrologic, permafrost, and disturbance dynamics;
  2. Knowledge of how changes to ecosystems alter animal and plant populations and subsistence opportunities;
  3. Evaluation of the effects of changing fire regimes on rural and urban communities and atmospheric carbon budgets and other climate feedbacks.

The Terrestrial Ecosystems Goal will facilitate the improvement of important process modeling activities currently being supported by a range of Federal agencies through its focus on research that includes long-term monitoring activities, collection and analysis of field-based observations for specific projects, and creation of geospatial data products, especially from airborne and spaceborne remote sensing data. These agencies are also conducting critical monitoring and research activities to understand the impacts of ecosystem changes to ecosystem services.

The three Research Objectives for this Goal and the Performance Elements identified for them provide a framework for coordinating Federally sponsored research and monitoring activities. The Performance Elements are based upon extensive, longer-term research, inventory, and monitoring activities supported by Department of the Interior bureaus (Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, USGS, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs), U.S. Department of Agriculture bureaus

(U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service), NSF, and a number of shorter-term research activities sponsored by these and other Federal agencies (DOD, DOE, NASA). The Performance Elements also incorporate opportunities for coordination, integration, and synthesis of research across agencies, including activities to support the Arctic Council, the Department of Energy’s Next Generation Ecosystem Experiment-Arctic (NGEE), the Department of the Interior’s Alaska Climate Science Center, Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs), and North Slope Science Initiative (NSSI), the Joint Fire Science Program’s Alaska Fire Science Consortium, NASA’s Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE), NOAA’s Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy (ACCAP), and NSF’s SEARCH Permafrost Action Team. This latter group of projects and programs include significant interactions with key State of Alaska agencies, including the Departments of Natural Resources and Fish and Game. From an international perspective, research and monitoring activities that address the Terrestrial Ecosystems Goal are being coordinated through the activities of the Arctic Council as well as agreements between U.S. and Canadian Federal agencies.

The work focuses on the following objectives

Learn more about the Terrestrial Ecosystems Collaboration Team implementing this section of the plan.

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