2015 SNESI Grant Proposals Additional Detail

This following was prepared by the SNESI panel to provide additional details for potential projects for the 2015 grant cycle. Each of the priority areas is described and several more potential topics are listed than what is included in the call. The topics are here to stimulate thinking of potential projects. Any project that will have high quality impacts will be considered, especially if they address the SNESI Strategic Plan.

Balancing multiple ecosystem services and biotic diversity on California's landscapes:

Land managers face increasing pressure to develop and justify management practices that conserve native species, maximize crop/forage yield, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon storage, and minimize adverse effects of weeds, soil loss, flooding, wildfire and nutrient leaching. Managing ecosystems for multiple goals involves careful evaluation of tradeoffs, thresholds, and feedbacks associated with multiple ecosystem processes. This becomes even more critical in the face of multiple environmental changes, such as elevated carbon dioxide, altered temperature and precipitation, increased nitrogen deposition, decreased diversity, and increased invasions.

Topics in this area may include:

  • How do environment and management interact to affect the sustainability of individual ecosystem services and biotic diversity?
  • What are the impacts of any given management practice or set of practices on multiple ecosystem services? What are the impacts of lack of management (e.g. subdivided rangelands) on multiple services?
  • How can tradeoffs in managing for multiple ecosystem services be better understood and valued; and how do these tradeoffs vary by site (including soils), region, and spatial/temporal scale?
  • How do juxtaposition and geographic arrangement of different land uses or land cover types affect the provisioning of individual and multiple ecosystem services? How is this affected by land use change?
  • How are the potential changes in ecosystem services influenced by global climate change?
  • How are the potential changes in ecosystem services influenced by changes in soil processes, and other chemical changes, such as N deposition?
  • How are the potential changes in ecosystem services influenced by invasive plants, pests, or other exotic species?
  • How do the costs of managing for ecosystem services compare to their economic benefits? What are the economic costs of changes in ecosystem services in response to management or environmental changes?
  • What are the ecological consequences of high intensity systems (e.g. some forms of agriculture, energy production, active or heavily used “passive” recreation (e.g. golf courses, county parks, etc.?) on surrounding natural and managed ecosystems?

Causes and consequences of changes in community composition, biodiversity and species range shifts, and species interactions in a changing environment:

High inter-annual variability in weather, directional climate change, nitrogen deposition, invasion of exotic species, and land use changes are just some of the factors driving large shifts in species distributions, prevalence, community interactions, and ecosystem functions. In order to understand and manage biotic communities and ecosystem functions under changing conditions, it is critical to understand how:

 - Species distributions, biotic community composition and community interactions change in response to environmental variation, and human-caused shifts in environment.

- Changes in biotic communities (e.g. shifts in dominant species, species diversity, and presence of rare species) alter ecosystem functions, and determine how ecosystem function responds to environmental variations.

Topics in this area may include:

  • The importance of key species, diverse communities, and community interactions in providing resilience of ecosystem structure and/or function in response to environmental variability and/or land use change.
  • Drought is also driving changes in managed landscapes across both small (residential) and larger scales, including a shift away from large areas of exotic grass to areas utilizing California native or introduced drought-tolerant plants .
  • What are the ecological ramifications, positive and negative, of these shifts?
  • Is there an increase in the sustainability and habitat value of urban areas undergoing these changes?
  • The importance of key community interactions in regulating the response of communities and ecosystem processes to changing environmental conditions (e.g. phenological shifts, plant-microbial interactions, pollination, pathogens, nurse plants, trophic interactions, etc.)
  •  Time-scale of response:
    • To what extent is there a rapid vs. lagged response of the community and ecosystem processes to environmental variability and change? (To what extent are current patterns of communities and ecosystem processes due to current conditions vs. legacy effects?)
    • Who are the key species/ functional types that drive the responses of communities to different types of environmental changes? To what extent are there synergies or tradeoffs (e.g. does community shift in response to N deposition lead to a loss of species that can respond to drought?)
    • What is the timescale for recovery of communities and ecosystem functions to environmental changes, land use changes, and disturbances? Who are the key species/ functional types that drive the recovery?

The shifting spatial structure of California's natural resources under environmental change:

New conceptual approaches for measuring, understanding, and managing natural resources are needed because continued fragmentation of the landscape changes the distribution and abundance of organisms. Resources such as water and favorable climate shift spatially, are used (or lost) differently, and ecological mechanisms forming management strategies change as do the abilities of organisms to adapt to those shifts.

Topics in this area may include:

  • Utilize existing historical data sets to better provide the context for understanding long-term patterns in land use or in the distribution of ecological systems.
  • Develop improved frameworks for evaluating and analyzing impacts of fragmentation across spatial scales (local, county, and regional), dynamics (temporal dimensions and sustainability), processes, drivers, and systems (landscapes, wildlands, crop/animal agriculture, and urban and suburban communities).
  • Are changing urban ecosystems able to increase habitat connectivity, as native plant landscaping becomes more commonplace?

Tools for land change science:

An aspect of land change science is observation, monitoring, and prediction of patterns. A range of tools can be used in support of land change science, which is understanding change, understanding consequences, predicting futures, and educating decision makers. There are also a number of tools currently available for citizen science monitoring that could be used by Cooperative Extension to broaden networks.

Topics in this area may include:

  • Develop and demonstrate the use of tools for life cycle analysis of key ecosystem services from natural ecosystems.
  • Determine the educational uses and limitations for land change science tools. What are their strengths, weaknesses, and adaptability? Are there better information sources available from ANR, UC, or externally?
  • Success or failure of citizen science tools and/or social media for monitoring and broadening Cooperative Extension networks

Promote the understanding and importance of ecosystem services provided by California's working landscapes:

Working landscapes is a broad term that expresses the goal of fostering landscapes where production of market goods and ecosystem services is mutually reinforcing. It means working with people as partners to create landscapes and ecosystems that benefit humanity and the planet.

As an example, by stewarding rangelands we not only protect the opportunity to produce healthy livestock products, but also extensive areas of view shed, wildlife habitat and watershed. Forests not only produce the wood needed for housing, furniture, heating, and paper, but they provide habitat for wildlife, opportunities for recreation, carbon sequestration, and watershed. Forests and rangelands are cultural and historical places, and have great meaning for many Californians.

The continued novelty of ecosystem services to the general public warrants a step wise approach beginning with clientele engagement, education outreach, and building the foundations for better understanding of these services. The education component works toward communicating to policy makers the purpose and mechanics of using ecosystem services.

Topics in this area may include:

  • Proposals to develop and evaluate communication methods useful to policy makers and/or general audiences, including better education/outreach media, increased understanding by policy makers and the public of ecosystem services, and the engagement of policy makers in the development of future research.
  • Proposals to develop and evaluate communication methods that help to link ecosystem processes to land use decision-making based on principles of environmental economics. Analyses that provide suites of examples of municipal policies that promote particular ecosystem services.
  • Proposals that find develop and evaluate management and policy synergies—practices and policies that enhance production of multiple ecosystem services as well as goods for the market. For example the use of prescribed burning in forests can improve forest health, reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, restore Native American management practices, and increase biodiversity. Livestock grazing can be used to improve habitat for endangered butterflies, flowers, kangaroo rats and many other species.
  • Proposals that examine the State Water Quality Control Board’s Grazing Regulatory Action Project.
  • Proposals that look at wildlife damage that impact natural resources on working landscapes while providing wildlife habitat as an ecosystem service.

Promote additional collaborations and discussions between natural resource/conservation managers/restorationists and research and extension professionals to help build, evaluate, or strengthen relationships between them and to improve the whole natural ecosystems extension network to include working, leisure and urban landscapes:

Leisure landscapes are often defined as areas planted for only visual or practical comfort but may include some natural areas. Urban landscapes may be a subset of either leisure or working landscapes. Urban landscapes that use food crops in their design become working as do green belts that use grazing for maintenance or improvement. 

Topics in this area may include:

  •  Proposals for workshops to brainstorm research networks, initiate and solidify collaborations and networks between researchers and managers, and to develop a “wish list” of questions that managers have - providing a resource and collaborative network for I&R and CE faculty, advisors, and students to initiate research projects that meet stakeholder needs.
  • Proposals that develop and evaluate any type of on-line forum/network/match-making of managers looking for researchers, researchers looking for management projects to study.
  • Proposals that evaluate the current networks or identify factors that promote the success or failure of linking land managers and restorationists with extension professionals and researchers.