June 1, 2020

By Madeleine Zaritsky

The Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions (CCASS) and the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center (SW CASC) recently held a series of virtual workshops on the topic of Ecosystem Resilience, focused on heat stress on biota and what happens after large-scale mortality and climate-related disturbance events. These workshops addressed scientific uncertainties and how these gaps in knowledge affect land management.

The study of ecosystem resilience, or the ability of an ecosystem to function and regenerate after a disturbance, is becoming increasingly complex due to climate change. In the second workshop of the series, “Ecosystem Transformation After Large-Scale Disturbance,” presenters focused on forest management and fire in the context of ecosystem resilience. Forests in the Southwest are under immense environmental stress due to the consequences of global warming, including the increasing severity and frequency of fires, and are therefore a focal point for ecosystem resilience solutions.

Participants in this workshop discussed whether damaged areas should or can be restored to their original species makeup, or if replanting should aim to introduce trees that are more resistant to the changing climate. Several participants argued that replanting regionally failing species, species that have little chance of survival in their native region due to new stresses such as extreme heat waves, could be considered ecologically futile.

Restoring damaged areas and other land management decisions require predictive models and specified metrics, and the applicability and limitations of these tools were examined by presenters and attendees. Another layer of complexity was added with discussion on optimal management strategies, as management that is fitted to a specific geography, scale, and type of disturbance can lead to more effective program implementation.       

With over 120 total attendees across the three sessions, the Ecosystem Resilience workshops proved immensely popular. In an effort to continue the conversation and create real-world solutions, CCASS is now surveying participants to determine which topics from the conversations they wish to pursue further and to connect respondents who hold similar interests. CCASS plans to use its survey responses to organize self-directed working groups, whose possible goals include developing guidance materials, publishing peer-reviewed papers, and submitting grant proposals.

By conducting these virtual workshops and distributing the survey, CCASS hopes to build connections between researchers and promote meaningful research that translates to real-world solutions, improving our ability to adapt and protect ecosystems in the face of climate change.