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Task 26: Bren School Summer Internships and MESM Group Projects - Oakology

Award Period: 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Award Amount: 

$2 300

Agency Name: 

The Nature Conservancy

Award Number: 

SB150143-Task26

PI First Name: 

Steven

PI last name: 

Gaines

Co-PI: 

Bruce Kendall
John Melack

Area/s of Research: 

Abstract: 

This project’s overall goal is to model species range shifts on the Channel Islands as average temperatures increase. Island managers can then use the information to identify and explore management and conservation techniques for various species. Oak woodland communities, comprised of Quercus tomentella and Lyonothamnus floribundus, are most at-risk on the islands. With a warming climate, researchers believe these communities will move upslope on north-facing slopes, following the relatively cool temperatures they rely on. In an island environment, viable habitat for plants adapted to cooler microclimates are very limited, and now shrinking as temperatures increase. Oak woodland communities are struggling on all of the islands except Santa Cruz Island, where they are thriving. This may be due to the presence of island scrub jays, which spread acorns across Santa Cruz Island. Our model would look at past and current distributions of Quercus tomentella, and project its likely future distribution as climate change drives range shifts. There is not sufficient data to do an analogous model for Lyonothamnus floribundus, but it follows parallel trends to Quercus tomentella.

 

Similar methods could be used to model expansion of invasives due to climate change. Understanding where invasives are likely to expand would provide island managers with more robust information about which native plant communities are most at risk of invasive competition and therefore the highest priority in restoration efforts. Many invasive plants favor current climate change trends, whereas a multitude of native island plants are suffering due to the warmer and drier climate. We will model the spread of high profile invasives in a changing climate, and separately, where native plant alliances may shift with a changing climate—with that combination, we hope to determine which plant communities will be at the greatest risk of losing habitat from both a changing climate and competition with aggressive invasives.

 

The general approach will synthesize existing resources into a model to inform management strategy that meets the conservation goals and objectives identified by The Nature Conservancy and the managers of the other islands. This approach will include:

  • A thorough review of current island management plans, GIS assessments, and relevant literature.
  • Interviews with various island managers from the National Park Service, the Nature Conservancy, US Navy, Catalina Island Conservancy, and Mexico.
  • Research of existing management programs for island endemics to determine feasibility for the Channel Islands.
  • Use of extensive vegetation maps of the islands to model the potential distribution shifts of Quercus tomentella on the islands using available modeling programs like Maximum Entropy (Maxent) with bioclim climate variables.
  • Analysis of conservation approaches such as translocations, biocontrol, and genome editing from other locations to assess feasibility of implementation for the California Islands.

 

Ultimately, the approach will focus on:

 

  • Inputting existing climate information, species distributions, and remote sensing data into climate envelope models to develop a strategy for Quercus tomentella.
  • Analyzing the ecological, economic, and infrastructure data to develop recommendations about prioritizing conservation resources to address oak woodland communities.

 

This group project will focus on Quercus tomentella as it is the rarest oak species in North America, and it is the dominant species in the oak woodland community on the islands. There is not enough data on Lyonothamnus floribundus to model its distribution changes with climate change, but it expected to behave similarly to Quercus tomentella.