Grand Teton National Park: Biologists Use GIS to Model Pika Habitat

In response to a growing body of evidence indicating that climate change is slowly and persistently affecting the ecology of plant and animal species on a global scale, Grand Teton National Park biologists – in collaboration with Yellowstone NP and Teton Science Schools – began a survey this past summer to develop baseline data on the local population of American pika (Ochotona princeps).

Pikas reside at high elevations (one of few mammal species to so) and although they are found throughout the Teton Range, little is known about their habitat requirements, distribution, and historic or current range.

Recent scientific studies suggest that the American pika, a small lagomorph found in subalpine and alpine talus slopes, can be used as an indicator species for evaluating the effects of climate change in western North America because of its sensitivity to temperature fluctuations.

In a study conducted in Nevada’s Great Basin by Eric Beever, ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, 7 out of 25 pika populations were lost in the 55-86 years since their last recorded presence. Researchers also found that pika populations shifted upward an average elevation of 500 feet in Yosemite National Park; a fact that suggests pikas may eventually reach an elevation limit in their response to increasing temperatures. In addition, habitat models recently developed by April Craighead, with Craighead Environmental Research Institute, and Scott Loarie, with the Carnegie Institute, predict that pikas may disappear from over 80% of their current range by the turn of the century. The majority of this disappearance is expected to occur in the pikas’ lower elevation range where temperatures may exceed thresholds for their survival.

Evidence linking changes in pika numbers and their distribution to a warming climate prompted the Center for Biological Diversity to petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2007 to list pikas under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). While a decision has not yet been issued on this petition, if listed, the American pika will become the first mammal species outside of Alaska to be protected under the ESA due to climate change threats.

Using geographic information system (GIS), Grand Teton biologists modeled suitable pika habitat located between Rendezvous Mountain and Paintbrush Canyon based on characteristics derived from published literature and related studies. Suitable habitat was defined as talus slopes less than 35 degrees in angle and no more than 400 meters from an established or “social” trail. Biologists selected 250 random locations to serve as established points for the survey. At each point, technicians assessed the area for habitat suitability and proceeded to locate physical evidence (scat, hay piles) as well as visual and/or vocal activity. Investigators then made population estimates in each plot and placed small sensors at ten survey sites that measure temperature several times a day. The sensors will be left in the field for one year, after which time they will be collected and the temperature data downloaded. Preliminary results from this year’s survey indicate that, within Grand Teton, observers found evidence of pika occupancy in or surrounding 47 of 49 plots, which ranged from 2000-3500 meters in elevation.

Grand Teton’s pika monitoring surveys were relatively simple and cost effective to implement. Based on this initial project, there is growing interest among Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem land management agencies in expanding surveys to include national forest areas, and other locations across the ecosystem.

This project serves as a critical first step in documenting where pika populations exist and ultimately will help biologists understand how those populations may change under different climate scenarios. Information from this project will be used to evaluate the health of Grand Teton’s pika population and comes at a time when pikas throughout the western United States are predicted to disappear in the near future due to climate change.

[Source: NPS press release]

Mapping the Plastic Problem

…from V1 Magazine

“The growing amount of plastic debris in the world’s oceans and waterways has many scientists and anti pollution activists very concerned. The Great Pacific Garbage patch, a gyre in the Pacific Ocean that is capturing plastic debris and is growing in size has provided a rallying cry for activists that is gaining momentum. Drew Stephens, the founder of the GIS Institute, has long been involved in the application of GIS for conservation, and that work has led to his participation on the Think Beyond Plastic expedition in California that recently took place. V1 editor Matt Ball spoke with Stephens about the purpose and outcome of this trip as well as the benefits of applying more geospatial analysis to this problem.”

Progress in 3D Geological Mapping in the Eastern Prairies of Canada and the USA

…from the 2009 Three-Dimensional Geologic Mapping Workshop held by the Illinois State Geological Survey…

Greg Keller, Gaywood Matile, and Harvey Thorleifson

“Increasing demand for groundwater and hydrocarbons have been the two main drivers for 3D mapping in Manitoba. In order to satisfy these demands, and to broaden our knowledge of the subsurface, the Manitoba Geological Survey has been working toward a provincial 3D model by developing regional and detailed models, as well as protocols and methodologies for model construction. Early in 2000, after years of data compilation, the first of Manitoba’s 3D models was built. This hydrostratigraphic model, built with funding from the National Geoscience Mapping Program (NATMAP), covered the 200 km by 230 km Winnipeg area of southeastern Manitoba. Subsequently, Paula Kennedy of the University of Manitoba completed a groundwater-flow model based upon this data, proving its feasibility for groundwater modeling (Kennedy and Woodbury, 2005). The model has since been extended northward to include the Lake Winnipeg basin and is currently being extended westward to complete all of the southern Manitoba Phanerozoic terrane south of 55° North Latitude. The southwest Manitoba model will include bedrock units derived from the recently completed Williston Basin architecture and hydrocarbon potential project 3D model which was funded by the federal (Canada) Targeted Geoscience Initiative (TGI). This cooperative model was created using high quality drill data from both Manitoba and Saskatchewan. A regional scale model was recently created using data from the Atlas of the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) (Mossop and Shetsen, 1994). It was built using digitized structure contours, and covers Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. Future modeling will include further cooperation with both Minnesota and North Dakota in order to produce the Red River Valley 3D geological model. This model will connect the existing Manitoba models with the 3D geological model of groundwater-bearing strata in the Fargo-Moorhead region. Early in 2009, the first step was taken toward this end by creating a cross-border seamless Quaternary map covering the study area. Finally, a new project on the hydrocarbon potential of the Hudson Bay and Foxe basins has been initiated. This project is part of the new Geological Survey of Canada northern Geoscience of Energy and Minerals program (GEM). One of the planned products is a 3D model of the Hudson Bay Lowland (HBL) area of northern Manitoba.”

Lineament Mapping in a Tropical Environment using Landsat Imagery

International Journal of Remote Sensing, Volume 30, Issue 23 2009 , pages 6277 – 6300

M. F. Ramli;  N. K. Tripathi;  N. Yusof;  H. Z. M. Shafri; Z. Ali Rahman.

“Remote sensing has proved to be a useful tool in lineament identification and mapping. This study demonstrates the use of multispectral Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) and Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM +) satellite data obtained over two acquisition dates in 1990 and 2002 for lineament interpretation in a Malaysian tropical environment. A digital elevation model (DEM) was generated to improve the interpretation. We found that most of the major orientations in the field station could be successfully detected from the remotely sensed imagery. The results from the study show that the remote sensing technique is capable of extracting lineament trends in an inaccessible tropical forest.”

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A New Methodology for Measuring Coastline Recession using Buffering and Non-linear Least Squares Estimation

International Journal of Geographical Information Science, Volume 23, Issue 9 September 2009 , pages 1165 – 1177

Joon Heo;  Jung Hwan Kim; Jin Woo Kim.

“Coastline recession is one of the best indicators of coastal erosion. Three methods for computing coastline recession – the baseline approach, the dynamic segmentation approach and the area-based approach – have been used, each of which has one or more drawbacks. To overcome these problems, a new methodology for measuring coastline recession is proposed, using buffering and non-linear least squares estimation. The proposed method was compared with the three existing methods with respect to two simulated cases and two real coastlines. Test results confirmed that the new method is more reliable than the three other methods, all of which are susceptible to variability of recession, scale, number of line segments, length of coastlines and direction of the baseline. The proposed method, incorporating two physically meaningful values – magnitude and variability of coastline recession according to the mean and standard deviation of coastline offsets, respectively – presents itself as an effective alternative method of assessing coastline recession.”

Symbolizing Trees in ArcGIS: Randomly Varying the Tree Symbol Size

…from the ESRI Mapping Center blog

“On large scale maps, you will often see that the symbols used to represent trees are all one size. As we know from our own real-world experience, tree crowns (i.e., the tops of trees formed by their leaves and branches) are different sizes, so a more realistic representation would be to vary the tree symbol size slightly to account for this natural variation.

“Although we know that the height, trunk diameter, and crown diameter all vary depending on the amount of sunlight and water a tree gets, what age it is, and where it is planted (to name a few variables), what if none of this information is available to create variation in your tree symbols? What can you do in ArcMap to at least show cartographically varying crown sizes for your symbolized trees? This blog entry describes a method to symbolize trees using point symbols that give the impression of varied tree crown sizes.”

Spatial Analysis and Modeling to Assess and Map Current Vulnerability to Extreme Weather Events in the Grijalva–Usumacinta Watershed, México

2009 IOP Conf. Ser.: Earth Environ. Sci. 8 012021

D López L

“One of the major concerns over a potential change in climate is that it will cause an increase in extreme weather events. In Mexico, the exposure factors as well as the vulnerability to the extreme weather events have increased during the last three or four decades. In this study spatial analysis and modeling were used to assess and map settlement and crop systems vulnerability to extreme weather events in the Grijalva – Usumacinta watershed. Sensitivity and coping adaptive capacity maps were constructed using decision models; these maps were then combined to produce vulnerability maps. The most vulnerable area in terms of both settlement and crop systems is the highlands, where the sensitivity is high and the adaptive capacity is low. In lowlands, despite the very high sensitivity, the higher adaptive capacity produces only moderate vulnerability. I conclude that spatial analysis and modeling are powerful tools to assess and map vulnerability. These preliminary results can guide the formulation of adaptation policies to an increasing risk of extreme weather events.”