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Recommended Resource: The Refugia Research Coalition

Tuesday, May 30, 2023
Toni Lyn Morelli

During her NE CASC tenure, Toni Lyn Morelli has led or participated in a kaleidoscopic array of NE CASC research projects. Her portfolio includes investigations of climate change impacts on maple syrup production, the compounding effects of invasive species and climate change, increasing the resilience of climate-vulnerable northeastern species and ecosystems, the conservation of climate change refugia, urban monarch landscape conservation design, cllmate-smart strategies for dealing with invasive species, and the effects of arctic ground squirrel abundance and distribution on carbon cycling and ecosystem dynamics, among others.

Given Morelli's wide-ranging research interests and extensive contributions to climate adaptation science, our communications team recently interviewed Morelli to learn about her favorite resource to have emerged from one of her NE CASC projects. In this brief Q & A, Morelli explains why the Refugia Research Coalition resonates so strongly with her, why she is encouraging the NE CASC community to engage with it, how management concerns help shaped its development, and how this resource relates to some of her key research themes.

NE CASC Communications Team (NE CASC): Please tell us a little about yourself.
Toni Lyn Morelli (TLM): I am a Research Ecologist for the U.S. Geological Survey at the Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, and a leader of the Northeast Regional Effort on Invasive Species and Climate Change (RISCC) Management Network, which I co-founded with NE CASC University Codirector Bethany Bradley and Cornell University's Carrie Brown-Lima in 2016. Originally from Michigan, I received my B.S. in Zoology from Michigan State University, and my PhD in Ecology and Evolution from Stony Brook University before receiving a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship at U.C. Berkeley, working with the U.S. Forest Service in California and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I joined NE CASC just after its creation 11 years ago, starting as Program Manager for the University Consortium. I believed in the CASC mission from the start and wanted to be a part of it. I'm so glad I have been!

NE CASC: During your association with NE CASC, you have played a major role in producing scores of articles, tools, and other resources. Tell us about one of your favorites.
TLM: My selection is the Refugia Research Coalition (RRC), a network that I run with a team of interns, students, postdocs, researchers, and managers. Although it's still in its infancy, climate change refugia conservation has become an important aspect of climate adaptation. The RRC is one of my favorite resources because provides a mechanism for connecting resource managers and researchers across the region--and the world. It serves as a way to create community around climate change refugia science and management, a way to change the culture of knowledge development and implementation, and a way to move forward together more quickly with the highest impact possible. This tool relates to the work we do at RISCC, which only succeeds because our team maintains a steadfast focus on understanding and addressing the needs of resource managers and practitioners to achieve the goal of improving invasive species management. In other words, we are all in this together. Likewise, the RRC emphasizes the importance of collaboration between managers and researchers working together for climate adaptation. And I want everyone in the NE CASC audience to know about the RRC so more managers and researchers join our network, and our community grows along with our impact. I encourage everyone reading this to explore the RRC website today!

NE CASC: How were partners involved with the creation of the Refugia Research Coalition?
TLM: Partners were a huge part of the development of this project! The RRC is a translational endeavor. It is conducted through a process in which researchers are in regular and close communication with resource managers, who help guide the research and shape its outcomes. We've worked with the National Park Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service in both the Northeast and the Southwest US to highlight refugia maps that we have co-produced with them. The work that we do with the RRC is only important insofar as it is useful for the work on the ground, and our partners help ensure that. 

NE CASC: How does this resource relate to larger themes or challenges in your work?
TLM: I am deeply concerned with the state of biodiversity and the environment in general. With nearly everything I do in life, I try to consider how I can make even small positive impacts to the species and ecosystems around me. It is what gets me out of bed in the morning, and what keeps me from bed at night. This includes our work in climate adaptation. We as the NE CASC are working with resource management partners to move adaptation forward. Climate change refugia conservation is one aspect of climate adaptation. My work on climate change refugia and the Refugia Research Coalition is a way that I could have a small, but hopefully meaningful, impact on climate adaptation and, ultimately, on the world's biodiversity.