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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

NE CASC Launches Seven New Projects

Monday, October 31, 2022
Piping Plover


The Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center has awarded just over $2,300,000 to NE CASC university consortium institutions, USGS Science Centers, and other partners to embark on seven new research efforts that will inform natural and cultural resource climate adaptation initiatives in the region. In addition to supporting a new partnership that advances Tribal climate adaptation goals, these projects will address partner-identified information needs in the areas of coastal resilience, climate impacts on fish, wildlife and water, and climate-adaptive population supplementation.  Descriptions of the new projects follow below. 

Project Summaries

Project 1: Science to Support Marsh Conservation and Management Decisions in the Northeastern United States
Coastal resource and infrastructure managers face rapidly mounting environmental challenges. Increases in sea levels, decaying or outdated infrastructure, compound flooding from ocean storm surges and river runoff, and temperature and moisture extremes are all increasing the vulnerability of natural habitats, public, private, and commercial infrastructure, and community health and functionality. To effectively address these management issues, quality scientific and socio-economic information is required. For some areas and resources, that information is available, but it does not provide an understanding of how whole systems will respond to climate change and is dispersed across various science and social disciplines. Therefore, a synthesis of science and socio-economic understanding about changing coastal systems is urgently needed.  

This project will develop a region-wide strategic capacity to provide timely science support for decision-makers dealing with climate-induced changes in coastal resilience and vulnerability. The strategy will leverage and synthesize existing science information, new and ongoing research, and data-collection programs to directly address science challenges in coastal resource management. This effort will begin with a pilot project focused specifically on coastal marshes. Two Northeast CASC fellows will work with partners to develop geospatially referenced products to support a decision framework for evaluating strategic conservation and restoration that incorporates the value of saltmarshes within the NE CASC region.

The longer-term goal of this project is to build from that foundational analysis to design longer term projects that decrease uncertainty in models and establish transfer value of science support information across the region (e.g., complete maps of vulnerability, risk, and adaptation or mitigation best practices for meeting site-specific management needs).


Project 2: Putting the Sampling Design to Work: Enhancing Species Monitoring Programs in the Face of Climate Change
Studying the impacts of climate on important ecological responses is a recent priority of monitoring programs throughout the Northeast. Established sampling protocols for data collection, whether to inform estimates of species abundance or occupancy, were designed to evaluate the effects of non-climate stressors (e.g., habitat conversion) and related management actions. Traditional modeling approaches may not accurately identify important relationships between species and climate nor elicit useful information on how these species will be impacted by climate change. Management decisions based on these traditional modeling approaches could have negative and unintended consequences on species and habitat conservation. 

The goal of this project is to develop statistical methods to enhance the ability of monitoring programs to understand climate effects on fish and wildlife. Focusing on riverine smallmouth bass and streamside forest bird communities in the Northeast, this project will: 

(1) develop statistical models that account for and quantify the impacts of sampling design on understanding the relationship between climate and species abundance or occupancy, and  

(2) develop an optimal sampling design that enables monitoring programs to track climate change impacts and provide early indicators for fish and wildlife responses. 

With partners at both state and federal agencies, these approaches can be extended to support existing monitoring programs of other fish, wildlife, and habitats in making informed management decisions in the face of climate change. Project results will augment monitoring programs that are collecting critical data used to directly inform regulatory and policy decisions. 


Project 3: The Impact of Climate Change on Culturally Significant Wetland Plants and Their Habitat in the Meduxnekeag River Watershed in Maine
Wetland plants are important to Wabanaki people in Maine and are central to Houlton Band of Maliseet Indian (HBMI) identity. HBMI peoples have harvested culturally important plants within the Meduxnekeag watershed for generations. Basket making and medicinal plant harvesting are forms of cultural preservation that are also important to Tribal economies.  

Projections for climate change in the northeastern U.S. include warmer temperatures and changes in the timing, amount, and intensity of precipitation. The hydrological consequences of projected changes will likely include increased temperatures,reduced winter ice cover on lakes and streams, earlier spring streamflow peaks, reduced summer streamflow, and increased summertime evapotranspiration. Baseline data on wetland plant species is vital to identifying the vulnerability of wetland plant species in the Meduxnekeag watershed to climate-change related hydrologic shifts.  

This project will integrate HBMI traditional knowledge with a recently developed watershed model for the Meduxnekeag to develop a research process that addresses HBMI climate adaptation needs surrounding wetland plants. Products will include an inventory of wetland plants of cultural importance, a vulnerability index of wetland species to climate change, and multiple workshops guiding plant inventory methodologies and actionable science outcomes. Outcomes could include prioritization of wetland areas to restore or protect, and the adaptation of current water quality monitoring to ensure early detection of climate related stressors.  

Project leaders will incorporate Traditional Knowledge at all stages of the project. HBMI peoples will hold the culturally sensitive plant data and decide on management actions resulting from this work. As Tribes in Maine acquire new lands, this work would help them identify and assess climate risk to wetland plants in both new and existing watersheds that they steward. It will serve as a template for work in other watersheds throughout New England. 


Project 4: Future Aquatic Invaders of the Northeast U.S.: How Climate Change, Human Vectors, and Natural History Could Bring Southern and Western Species North
There are significant investments by states and resource agencies in the northeast U.S. for invasive aquatic species monitoring and management. These investments in jurisdictional waters help maintain their use for drinking, industry, and recreation. It is essential to understand the risks from invasive species, because once established, species can be costly to society and difficult or impossible to control. Identifying which species are most likely to move into a new region and cause harmful impacts can aid in preventing introductions and establishment. This is especially important in response to climate change as habitats potentially become usable to previously range-restricted species.  

Currently, hundreds of invasive aquatic species occur in the southeast and the western U.S. and can potentially move into the northeast region. This project will help guide future monitoring efforts and bring attention to high-risk areas that could be invaded by southern and western invasive aquatic species. The research team will select 100 invasive species based on input from a regional stakeholder workshop to ensure that priority management species are considered. Then, the team will model the spread of invasive species under future climate change scenarios to understand where they will spread and when they are expected to arrive. Early detection and rapid response are essential to minimize the impact of invasive species, and this research is a critical first step to ensure that these responses are informed and based on the best available science. 


Project 5: Effects of Urban Coastal "Armoring" on Salt Marsh Sediment Supplies and Resilience to Climate Change
Salt marshes are grassy wetlands that form along sheltered coastlines. These areas provide crucial habitats for many species of birds and other animals, in addition to recreational activities and economic opportunities. Marshes also protect the coast from storms and filter runoff from the landscape, ensuring cleaner and healthier coastal waters. As climate change causes sea levels to rise salt marshes are at risk of being drowned out if they are unable to grow quickly enough to stay above the rising tides. In order to build elevation and endure sea level rise, marshes trap sediment from tidal waters, which accumulates over time to build a platform that marsh grass can grow on. 

Along exposed coasts, humans have built seawalls and other structures to protect homes and infrastructure from erosion. It is believed that reduced erosion as a result of this “coastal armoring” has made it harder for salt marshes to thrive along urbanizing, armored shorelines, as they no longer receive sediment from eroding coasts. This project will use satellite imagery to observe how sediment in coastal waters along the Northeast U.S. varies in response to coastal armoring. A network of sediment samples and cores from marshes with and without armoring will then be analyzed to see if urban marshes receive less sediment following armoring. The data can then provide scientists and coastal decision makers with information on how to help marshes survive sea level rise. If coastal armoring and reduced sediment supply is found to be a contributor of salt marsh deterioration, effective solutions to restore the lost sediment may then be determined. The results of this work will be available to coastal decision makers through partners at NOAA and the USGS.  


Project 6: Climate-Adaptive Population Supplementation to Enhance Fishery and Forestry Outcomes
Society makes substantial investments in federal, Tribal, state, and private programs to supplement populations of valued species such as stocking fish, planting trees, rebuilding oyster reefs, and restoring prairies. These important efforts require long-term commitment, but climate change is making environmental conditions less predictable and more challenging to navigate. Selection of species for population supplementation is often based on performance prior to release, and one or a few species may then be used for decades even as the environment is changing. When these species are propagated in large numbers, they can become the dominant population as well as genetically overtake any local adaptations. Therefore, it is critical that population supplementation programs choose species that will thrive under future climate conditions; yet promote and maintain genetic diversity.  

Existing large-scale population supplementation programs offer a remarkable opportunity to advance climate adaptation for natural resource management in the Northeast and beyond. Climate-Adaptive Population Supplementation (CAPS) seeks to boost the efficiency of these population supplementation programs by developing portfolios of climate-resilient species. In this project, researchers will take a three-phase approach to developing CAPS: establishing the conceptual framework, comparing the performance of species across various climate scenarios, and designing portfolios of species to enhance climate resilience. This will shift the mindset of stocking and planting programs, supported by careful comparisons of climate-relevant traits and genes among species. Both scientific innovation and stakeholder engagement will be essential and should be pursued in tandem with multiple management frameworks in order to test and refine the broader concept of population supplementation in the Northeast. 


Project 7: A regional synthesis of climate data to inform the 2025 State Wildlife Action Plans in the Northeast U.S.
The State Wildlife Action Plans (SWAPs) are proactive planning documents, known as “comprehensive wildlife conservation strategies.” SWAPs assess the health of each state’s wildlife and habitats, identify current management and conservation challenges, and outline needed actions to conserve natural resources over the long term. SWAPs are revised every 10 years, with the last revision in 2015 and the next revision anticipated in 2025. While state managers have a long history of managing for threats such as land-use change, pollution, and harvest, they have expressed a lack of expertise and capacity to keep pace with the rapid advances in climate science. This makes the prospect of integrating climate information into SWAPs a daunting task.  

This project addresses the direct needs of states in the Northeast U.S. by developing a regional synthesis across four key areas of climate science and focused to address the unique threats to Regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need (RSGCN). This project will summarize current data and information on regional climate changes, species responses to climate change, climate vulnerabilities and risks, and scale-appropriate adaptation strategies and actions. Case studies of successful climate adaptation efforts and climate threat-to-action narratives will provide illustrative examples of how climate change data has been integrated into decision-making processes.. Lists of recent climate resources and partner projects will also be synthesized to help SWAP writing teams connect with existing regional efforts. The delivery of final products is anticipated in 2023, just prior to when states actively begin preparing and writing their individual plans.