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Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

August 2016 Activity Highlights
Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center
La Crosse, Wisconsin

Topics covered in the August activity report.

Collaborative Partner Activities

Vegetation Mapping: Great Smokey Mountains
Andrew Strassman, Kevin Hop, Erin Hoy (UMESC), Rickie White (NatureServe), Tom Remaley, Troy Evans, Rob Klein and other Great Smoky Mountain (GRSM) National Park staff  conducted field reconnaissance and mapping verification of the vegetation within the North Carolina-side of GRSM National Park, for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Vegetation Mapping Project, August 15-26, 2016.  Field work encompassed the entire North Carolina side of the park, will involve the comparison of aerial imagery signatures to ground conditions while simultaneously testing the key to vegetation for functionality and consistency, and included the testing of an initial mapping classification and draft vegetation mapping of selected sections of the park.  The GRSM mapping project is associated with the National Park Service’s Vegetation Mapping Inventory (VMI) Program (Andrew Strassman,, Ecosystems).

Undergraduate Research Experiences
Richard Erickson (UMESC) and Eric Eager (UW-La Crosse) mentored 4 undergraduates through a National Science Foundation funded Mathematical Biology Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Broadly, the students examined population models used for assessing the impacts of wind energy on the federally endangered Indiana bat. The students specifically analyzed branching process models, potential biological removal models, and matrix population models. The students presented the results from their research as posters during the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium, August 4, 2016.  They are also working on several manuscripts for publication in peer reviewed journals.  The posters were also shared with Jennifer Syzmanski (USFWS, Endangered Species Program), August 11, 2016.  Syzmanski uses the same types of models in USFWS Region 3 endangered species management projects (Richard Erickson,, Ecosystems).

eDNA and Informatics Discussions with the Mayo Clinic
Richard Erickson, Jon Amberg, and Grace McCalla (UMESC) met with Jaime Davila (Mayo Clinic) August 23, 2016, in Rochester, MN, to discuss research overlaps and potential future collaborations between the eDNA based informatics research conducted at UMESC, and medical based informatics at the Mayo Clinic (Richard Erickson,, Ecosystems).


Electronic Methods to Track Bird Movements
Kevin Kenow (UMESC) provided information about the use of archival geolocator tags to document common loon migration and foraging patterns to Jim Williams from the Minneapolis StarTribune, July 28, 2016. Williams prepared a column discussing electronic methods of tracking bird movement and behavior.  Williams’s birding blog is available at, (Kevin Kenow,, Ecosystems).

Common Loon Research and Conservation
Minneapolis StarTribune outdoors writer Tony Kennedy and staff photographer Aaron Lavinsky accompanied Kevin Kenow, Steve Houdek (UMESC), and Lori Naumann (MN DNR) during common loon night capture work on the Whitewater Chain of Lakes near Pequot Lakes, MN, August 9, 2016,.  The news crew prepared a story on common loon research and how the effort relates to loon conservation efforts in Minnesota. The story appeared in the September 4th edition of the Minneapolis StarTribune (Kevin Kenow,, Ecosystems).


Short-term Climate Variability Predicts Species Occurrence as well or better than Long-term Climate Means
Wayne Thogmartin (UMESC) and colleagues from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, James Cook University, University of Nevada-Reno, Stony Brook University, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed species distribution models based on either short-term variability or long-term average climate covariates for 320 bird species in the conterminous U.S., and tested whether life-history trait-based guilds were particularly sensitive to short-term conditions. Models including short-term climate variability performed as well (cross-validated AUC score = 0.85) as models using long-term climate averages (0.84). Similarly, both models performed well compared to independent presence/absence data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey (independent AUC of 0.89 and 0.90, respectively). However, models based on short-term variability covariates more accurately classified true absences for most species (73% of true absences classified within the lowest quarter of environmental suitability versus 68%). Models comprised of short-term climate covariates can reveal the dynamic relationship between species and their environment because they capture the spatial fluctuations of species potential breeding distributions. With this information managers can identify which species and guilds are sensitive to climate variability, identify sites of high conservation value where climate variability is low, and assess how species’ potential distributions may have already shifted due recent climate change. The paper is available online,  (Wayne Thogmartin,, Ecosystems).

Extreme Heat and other Climate Extremes are Expected to be the Norm by Mid- to Late-century
Wayne Thogmartin (UMESC) and colleagues from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service quantified future changes in the frequency of extreme heat, drought, and false springs, during the avian breeding season, in 415 National Wildlife Refuges in the conterminous United States. Extreme heat is projected to increase dramatically in all wildlife refuges, whereas changes in droughts and false springs are projected to increase or decrease on a regional basis. Extreme heat is expected to change in occurrence frequency from once in about 20 years to once in every two or three years, irrespective of region. Half of all wildlife refuges are projected to see increases in frequency (>20% higher than the current rate) in at least two types of weather extremes by mid-century. Wildlife refuges in the Southwest are projected to exhibit the fastest rates of change. The paper is available online, at (Wayne Thogmartin,, Ecosystems).

Stakeholder-Led Science
Kristen Bouska (UMESC) and colleagues at the University of Missouri and CERC surveyed 80 resource managers of floodplain conservation lands, to document their management priorities and identify science needs.  The areas surveyed are highly dynamic floodplain environments along the Upper and Middle Mississippi River, and Lower Missouri River.  Although the problems facing the managers of these lands are complex, a small suite of inundation metrics were determined to be the most useful in guiding the decision making process.  The paper is available online, at (Kristen Bouska,, Ecosystems).

Scientific Meetings, Conferences, and Workshops

American Fisheries Society’s Annual Meeting
The Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center (UMESC) made the following contributions to the 146th Annual Meeting of the American Fisheries Society, August 21-25, 2016, in Kansas City, MO (Randy Hines,, Ecosystems)
Oral Presentations


Additional Contributions

Joint Statistical Meetings
Brian Gray (UMESC) presented, “Trend estimation given many short series of latent means,” at the Joint Statistical Meetings in Chicago, IL, July 30-August 4, 2016. The presentation covered estimating many trends from correlated time series, such as those commonly obtained by ecological and environmental monitoring programs.  The presentation’s co-authors are, Richard Erickson (UMESC), Eric Eager, Travis Harrison (Univ. of WI-La Crosse), and Karl Oskar Ekvall (Univ. of MN-Twin Cities, Brian Gray,, Ecosystems).

North American Ornithological Conference
Wayne Thogmartin, Jessica Stanton, and Mike Wellik (UMESC) participated in the 2016 North American Ornithological Conference, August 16-20, 2016, in Washington DC (Wayne Thogmartin,, Ecosystems).

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Geospatial Workshop
John (JC) Nelson (UMESC) was invited to participate in a workshop to help enhance geospatial education at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UWEC), August 18, 2016.  Nelson’s experience as UMESC’s GIS lab manager and working with lidar data prompted the invitation.  The UWEC workshop will focus on, “Challenges and strategies for working with millennials,” “Bringing LiDAR into the classroom,” and “Cartography’s place in the geospatial realm” (John (JC) Nelson,, Ecosystems).

Managing Science Data: SciDataCon 2016
John (JC) Nelson (UMESC) presented, “Data management challenges in a distributed organization: What challenges we are facing at the USGS and how are we working to overcome them,” at SciDataCon 2016, September 11-13, 2016, in Denver, CO.  SciDataCon seeks to advance the frontiers of data in all areas of research. This means addressing a range of fundamental and urgent issues around the ‘Data Revolution’ and the recent data-driven transformation of research and the responses to these issues in the conduct of research. SciDataCon 2016 is part of International Data Week, convened by The Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA), the International Council for Science (ICSU) World Data System, and the Research Data Alliance (John Nelson,, Ecosystems).


CERC – Columbia Environmental Research Center
DNR – Department of Natural Resources
eDNA – environmental DNA
GRSM – Great Smokey Mountains
LiDAR – Light Detection and Ranging
NPS – National Park Service
REU – Research Undergraduate Experiences
UMESC – Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center
USFWS – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
USGS – U.S. Geological Survey
VMI – Vegetation Monitoring Inventory

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