Funded Research Projects: WILDLIFE SCIENCE

Assessing Alpine Ecosystem Productivity to Environmental Change using Dall Sheep as an Iconic Indicator Species

Research Sponsored By: National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Principal Investigator: Laura Prugh
Project Description
Lack of knowledge about climate change impacts in alpine ecosystems represents a critical gap in our understanding of resilience and vulnerability to environmental change in the Arctic and boreal region of western North America. Declines in Dall sheep populations throughout their range have led to emergency harvest closures and made sheep harvest by far the most contentious wildlife management issue in Alaska. Dall sheep likely function as bellwethers of alpine ecosystem health and signs are pointing toward increasing ailment. The overarching goal of our study is to address the question: How are vegetation and snow conditions changing in alpine ecosystems throughtout the ABoVE domain, and how do these changes impact iconic northern wildlife and critical ecosystem services? We will: (a) produce times series of snow extent, NDVL, and shrub encroachment though alpine areas of the ABoVE domain, (2) evaluate how these factors affect Dall sheep movement, habitat selection, and population viability, (3) improve a spatially-explicit snowpack evolution model, and (4) relate our improved understanding of alpine ecosystem dynamics to the societal implication of altered sheep harvest. Findings from our study will provide insight into the resilience and vulnerability of Dall sheep, indicators of alpine ecosystem functioning, across this iconic species' global range. In addition, our work will substantially improve the remote sensing of snowpack characteristics and may inform future NASA missions by identifying key sensor data needed to further improve models.