The northeastern U.S. is home to a wide range of terrestrial and aquatic habitats, leading to a variety of interactions occurring between species and climate on multiple scales. Therefore, the most effective strategy to produce and deliver scientific climate information to resource managers is to align the scales of climate projections with the scales of resource management actions. While available downscaled climate data provides information at very fine resolutions (4-6 km), its usability in helping management decisions and its reliability in capturing various regional weather and climate metrics remain unclear.

The goal of this project is for researchers to collaborate with State Wildlife Action Plan coordinators to produce reliable and usable climate change projections at spatial and temporal scales relevant for informing mangement decisions. This work will be done for the 13 states in the Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies region. The project team will also compare existing downscaled datasets to highlight their strengths and weaknesses in capturing relevant climate variables, especially extreme precipitation, in the Northeast. This project will use data from the latest generation of climate models to produce climate change projections spanning the 21st century for a diverse set of ecologically-relevant variables (such as soil moisture). The resulting information will be presented in the form of graphics, descriptive summaries, and case studies and will also include guidance on how the projections should be interpreted and used in impact assessments.

While the proposed research is designed to inform fish and wildlife management in the Northeast, the scientific output from this project should be a useful resource for other researchers, modelers, and practitioners in the Northeast to understand species’ vulnerabilities at various scales. This work will also help regional resource managers determine how to best plan, implement, and evaluate temperature, precipitation and other climate variables, as well as related uncertainties, on a finer scale to inform the conservation and management of fish and wildlife species.

Adirondack Park

Loss of saltmarsh habitat is one of the biggest threats to coastal sustainability in the Northeast. Salt marsh has been identified as an essential fish and wildlife habitat, and loss of saltmarsh corresponds with precipitous declines in marsh-dependent wildlife. For example, the global population of Saltmarsh Sparrow is predicted to collapse within the next 50 years after experiencing a 9% annual decline across the northeastern U.S. Resource managers require tools to help restore salt marsh habitat for wildlife by adapting marshes to climate change-driven sea level rise. However, adaptation approaches need to be tested and evaluated before widespread application.  

Researchers are testing a rapidly emerging sea level rise adaptation-technique called “runnelling”, and developing science-based tools to target marshes most important for wildlife. Runnels are micro-channels created to help restore tidal drainage in drowning marshes. Stored water that is unable to drain from marshes kills marsh vegetation, exposing sediments to waves, increasing erosion, and furthering marsh loss. However, no data are available describing runnel construction or outcomes for wildlife, and few tools are available to identify marshes and high priority habitat best suited for restoration using runnels.  

In this study, researchers will address this need by expanding runnel evaluation in marshes to include information on wildlife, identifying marshes that meet criteria suitable for use of runnels as an adaptation approach, and piloting a tool to identify priority wildlife habitat using remotely-sensed data. This project helps land and resource managers determine how to best plan, implement, and evaluate runnelling as an emerging method to adapt salt marsh habitats to rising sea levels and increasing coastal storm impacts. The maps, tools, and data resulting from this work will help managers better protect salt marsh and wildlife in the face of climate change-driven sea level rise.   

Tidal Marsh in Plum Island Estuary, Massachusetts
Subscribe to Michelle Staudinger (Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center)