Past and current projects have focused on a variety of spatial and ecological scales including investigations on specific species, populations, communities, and ecosystem-level biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services
CASE is currently working with the USGS Gap Analysis Program and EPA Landscape Ecology Branch on identifying biodiversity metrics for use with ecosystem services analysis across the contiguous US. The project is being conducted at multiple scales in a phased approach, starting with community-based studies (San Pedro, Middle Rio Grande, and Albemarle-Pamlico), then multi-state regional areas (Southwest, Southeast, and South Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative), and finally culminating in the national-level EnviroAtlas under development by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its partners.
NRCS Conservation Effects Assessment Program
CASE took a lead role in the Southwest Regional Gap Analysis Project (SWReGAP) which was an update of the gap analysis effort in the Southwest. This was a multi-state, multi-agency effort with cooperating projects in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico. The goals of this research were to map the natural vegetation of the 5 southwestern states, model habitat for vertebrate species occurring within those states, map stewardship and management categories, conduct spatial analysis, and provide information for land managers to use in conservation planning. CASE served as regional habitat modeling and regional land stewardship laboratory and was responsible for completing a land cover map at the ecological system level for New Mexico and parts of Arizona and Colorado. CASE facilitated the habitat modeling of 817 vertebrate species within the regional project by providing a regional habitat protocol, facilitating regional modeling through standardized methodology, and modeling. The laboratory was also responsible for creating the land stewardship coverage for use in gap analysis, data analysis, report writing, and overall project finalization.
CASE has also integrated spatial analysis and habitat modeling to incorporate ecological context into conservation planning for Fort Bliss Military Reservation (Hamazaki et al. 2001). Ecological context provides a decision system for land managers to conserve ecological features that are abundant on, represent, and/or are unique to Fort Bliss, rather than features which are scarce on Fort Bliss but are contextually more conservable elsewhere. The objectives of this research were to 1) specify an ecological context area encompassing Fort Bliss; 2) identify and determine unique or sensitive vegetation and animal communities on Fort Bliss, and create GIS layers to indicate areas of the unique or sensitive vegetation and animal communities in Fort Bliss; and 3) to use information to characterize the ecological context of Fort Bliss. This project identified conservation foci for Fort Bliss and demonstrated how to incorporate information about ecological context in conservation planning (Hamazaki et al. 2003). This work demonstrated how consideration of such context can help to identify possible adjustments to conservation priorities to reflect the position of a jurisdiction on the landscape. This approach provided insight for supplementing conservation planning for locally scarce (e.g., rare or endangered) but ecological contextually abundant ecological features. In addition, this project synthesized knowledge about conservation and facilitated greater cooperation among landholders and created effective and consistent region-wide conservation strategies.
Research on Species and Habitat
Climate Change and Crucial Habitat
CASE examined how the Species At Risk (SAR) concept could be extended to evaluate potential of a sensitive species to impact military missions and the ability for that species to be managed in such a manner as to preclude federal listing in the future (Boykin et al. 2001). This study identified species for assessment, prepared habitat models for species assessment and conducted field surveys for reconnaissance, testing, and validation of modeling, and evaluated prospective existing risk assessment models for application to SAR evaluation. Using a structured and documented review protocol, a list of >300 taxa considered sensitive by various public and private conservation agencies and organizations was condensed to fewer than 30 demonstrably at-risk species. These at-risk species included the black-tailed prairie dog, Colorado chipmunk, ferruginous hawk, Baird’s sparrow, a land snail complex, and the night-blooming cereus. Through habitat modeling (Bak et al. 2001, Kroll et al. 2003, Rivieccio et al. 2003) and an integrated risk assessment (Andersen et al. 2004) we produced a landscape perspective useful to military installations and others in relation to conservation responsibility. Management of listed species consumes large amounts of time and money and can interfere with the military mission. This proactive management approach can be a major benefit to the Army's future ability to test and train on its installations.
Research on Community Ecology
Land Cover Mapping in Tajikistan
CASE conducted a fire ecology study on White Sands Missile Range (WSMR). The study provided a historical perspective on the role of fire on the range, analyzed existing vegetation data, and conducted spatial analysis to derive a three tiered management stratification of WSMR for fire management (Boykin 2000). The study provided needed ecological background for WSMR to complete a range-wide fire management plan. Using this hierarchy, a large-scale vegetation map and GIS, we created simplistic risk models based on fuel models, topography, and sites of concern for natural resource managers. The resulting maps provided a landscape view of the fire risk to natural and human resources and allowed land managers to take a landscape approach in fire management.
Working with Big Bend National Park, CASE conducted a spatial analysis of vegetation change in the Chisos Mountains (Ernst et al. 2003). Historical aerial photography and multi-temporal satellite images were used to investigate change occurring in the Chisos Mountain woodlands. Historic aerial photographs, MSS satellite images, and Landsat 7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper (ETM+) imagery were classified and analyzed to detect the change in the extent and cover of vegetation communities. Over time, the proportion of area occupied by individual land cover classes remained relatively consistent. This study is providing managers a historical perspective on the change in woody species composition and the role of fire within the system.
Remote Sensing Education
New MexicoView (newmexicoview.nmsu.edu) is also headquartered out of the CASE lab.