Preparing for the Future: Linking Technology with Nature to Preserve White Oak

Project Team: Cumberland Plateau Ecological Forecasting Team
Team Location: Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama

The Cumberland Plateau is one of the most biodiverse regions and has the highest concentration of endangered species in North America.

The Cumberland Plateau is one of the most biodiverse regions and has the highest concentration of endangered species in North America.

Authors:
Amanda Weigel, Project Lead (University of Alabama in Huntsville)
Jean Baptiste Kayitare (California Baptist University)
Robert Rossell (University of Alabama in Huntsville)

Mentors/Advisors:
Dr. Jeffrey Luvall (NASA Global Climatology and Hydrology Center; Science Advisor)

Past/Other Contributors:
Steve Northcutt (Director of Protection, The Nature Conservancy)
Dr. Callie Schweitzer (Research Forester, U.S. Forest Service)

Abstract:

This study examined the spatial distribution of White Oak, a representative species for the Cumberland Plateau area, using future climatic and current physical environmental parameters.  The Cumberland Plateau is one of the most biodiverse regions in North America, therefore, government and private agencies are interested in purchasing land for conservation efforts in years to come. Currently, these lands are purchased without knowledge as to how changes in climate will impact species distributions across the region. Global Digital Elevation Models (GDEM), along with satellite-derived current climate and hydrography data, were used as inputs into the Maximum Entropy Species Distribution Model (MaxEnt). The model outputs weighted environmental parameters indicative of White Oak species distribution. Using MaxEnt output percent contribution of the different environmental layers, a fuzzy logic model was created in ArcGIS and used to map the White Oak’s optimal distribution and habitable range using future climatic projections. For this analysis, we used the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Community Climate System Model (CCSM) IPCC Climate Change Commitment Scenario ensemble average to map the future distribution of White Oak in 2020, 2030, 2040, and 2049. The results are used to aid The Nature Conservancy and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services in determining areas in the Cumberland Plateau that are worth purchasing.

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