Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program:
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources


Multi-resolution Assessment of potential Climate Change Effects on Aquatic and Hydrologic Dynamics Part I: Estimating Ecological Change

August 2009 - September 2013


Participating Agencies

The southeastern US span broad ranges of physiographic settings and harbors exceptionally high levels of aquatic faunal diversity. Unfortunately, many of these ecosystems are under increasingly threat due to the rapid human development in the region. The effects of human development will be further exacerbated by continued and possibly, accelerating climate change. Natural resource conservation managers and planners can be effective at preserving these ecosystems in the face of climate change only if they can adapt current conservation efforts to minimize the varying threats posed by climate change. Indeed, climate change challenges many of the basic assumptions used by conservation planners and managers. Previous aquatic conservation planning efforts identified and prioritized areas for conservation based on the current environmental conditions, such as aquatic habitat quality, and assumed that conditions in conservation lands would be largely controlled by management actions (including no action). Climate change, however, will likely alter important system drivers (e.g., temperature and precipitation) making it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain desirable conditions in conservation lands into the future. Climate change will also influence the future conservation potential non-conservation lands, complicating conservation planning. To develop and adapt effective conservation strategies, managers need to consider the effects of climate change on future environmental conditions. Aquatic conservation planning and management have traditionally been separated into components (water use for human consumption and water availability for ecological needs) without formal integration of objectives and outcomes. Management actions, however, affect multiple aspects of the aquatic ecosystem such tat an action that is focused on desirable human use objectives will affect aquatic ecosystems and vice versa. For example, urban development changes vegetative cover and can alter runoff and streamflows-affecting water availability and ecological systems. Failure to consider alternative objectives in resource planning and management is inefficient and can potentially waste important opportunities or worse, can result in management actions that, while useful for achieving one objective, can negatively affect another important objective. Thus, there remains a need to develop a comprehensive approach to aquatic resource planning that incorporates multiple ecological and non ecological objectives. The objective of this research is to develop tools that aquatic resource managers can use to predict the effects of climate-change and management actions on water availability and aquatic communities at local landscape-scales. Using probabilistic projections of climate change, landcover dynamics, stream geomorphogy, and hydrology currently being developed for an integrated assessment in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system, we will model effects on aquatic biota at fine resolutions (i.e., stream networks), providing estimates of biological responses for alternative climate scenarios and potential management actions. These models will then be placed in user-friendly formats for use by resources managers.