The Southeastern United States spans a broad range of physiographic settings and maintains exceptionally high levels of faunal diversity. Unfortunately, many of these ecosystems are increasingly under threat due to rapid human development, and management agencies are increasingly aware of the potential effects that climate change will have on these ecosystems. Natural resource managers and conservation planners can be effective at preserving ecosystems in the face of these stressors only if they can adapt current conservation efforts to increase the overall resilience of the system. Climate change, in particular, challenges many of the basic assumptions used by conservation planners and managers. Previous conservation planning efforts identified and prioritized areas for conservation based on the current environmental conditions, such as 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 (temperature, precipitation, and sea-level rise) and make it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain recent historic conditions in conservation lands into the future. Climate change will also influence the future conservation potential of non-conservation lands, further complicating conservation planning. Therefore, there is a need to develop and adapt effective conservation strategies to cope with the effects of climate and landscape change on future environmental conditions. Congress recognized this important issue and authorized the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center (NCCWSC; http://nccw.usgs.gov/) in the Fiscal Year 2008. The NCCWSC will produce science that will help resource management agencies anticipate and adapt to climate change impacts to fish, wildlife, and their habitats. With the release of Secretarial Order 3289 on September 14, 2009, the mandate of the NCCWSC was expanded to address climate change-related impacts on all Department of the Interior (DOI) resources. The NCCWSC will establish a network of eight DOI Regional Climate Science Centers (RCSCs) that will work with a variety of partners to provide natural resource managers with tools and information that will help them anticipate and adapt conservation planning and design for projected climate change. The forecasting products produced by the RCSCs will aid fish, wildlife, and land managers in designing suitable adaptive management approaches for their programs. The DOI also is developing Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) as science and conservation action partnerships at subregional scales. The USGS is working with the Southeast Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to develop science collaboration between the future Southeast RCSC and future LCCs. The NCCWSC Southeast Regional Assessment Project (SERAP) will begin to develop regional downscaled climate models, land cover change models, regional ecological models, regional watershed models, and other science tools. Models and data produced by SERAP will be used in a collaborative process between the USGS, the FWS (LCCs), State and federal partners, nongovernmental organizations, and academia to produce science at appropriate scales to answer resource management questions. The SERAP will produce an assessment of climate change, and impacts on land cover, ecosystems, and priority species in the region. The predictive tools developed by the SERAP project team will allow end users to better understand potential impacts of climate change and sea level rise on terrestrial and aquatic populations in the Southeastern United States. The SERAP capitalizes on the integration of five existing projects: (1) the Multi-State Conservation Grants Program project "Designing Sustainable Landscapes," (2) the USGS multidisciplinary Science Thrust project "Water Availability for Ecological Needs," (3) the USGS Southeast Pilot Project "Climate Change in the Southeastern U.S. and its Impacts on Bird Distributions and Habitats," (4) a sea-level rise impacts study envisioned jointly with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and (5) two USGS sea-level rise impact assessment projects that address inundation hazards and provide probabilistic forecasts of coastal geomorphic change. The SERAP will expand on these existing projects and include the following tasks, which were initiated in summer 2009: * Regionally downscaled probabilistic climate-change projections * Integrated coastal assessment * Integrated terrestrial assessment * Multi-resolution assessment of potential climate change effects on biological resources: aquatic and hydrologic dynamics * Optimal conservation strategies to cope with climate change The SERAP seeks to formally integrate these tasks to aid conservation planning and design so that ecosystem management decisions can be optimized for providing desirable outcomes across a range of species and environments. The following chapters detail SERAP's efforts in providing a suite of regional climate, watershed, and landscape-change analyses and develop the interdisciplinary framework required for the biological planning phases of adaptive management and strategic conservation. The planning phase will include the identification of conservation alternatives, development of predictive models and decision support tools, and development of a template to address similar challenges and goals in other regions. The project teams will explore and develop ways to link the various ecological models arising from each component. The SERAP project team also will work closely with members of the LCCs and other partnerships throughout the life of the project to ensure that the objectives of the project meet resources mangers needs in the Southeast.
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Southeast Regional Assessment Project for the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey