September 2015 - As an OSI
intern, I spent a huge part of my summer learning about resilience science. While
this science is very complex, the most basic definition is “the capacity of an
ecosystem to recover from disturbances and retain the full diversity of plants
and animals, which is particularly important as species face the consequences
of climate change.”
My main task
was helping to research and write a series of guidance documents to help land
trusts and their partners apply resilience science to their everyday
conservation work. These “Climate Guides” support OSI’s Resilient Landscapes
Initiative, which protects the best climate-resilient lands in the Northeast
through grants to purchase land and for planning and research projects.
of immersing myself in the subject and mastering an online mapping tool called DataBasin to study the characteristics of
different landscapes, I was pretty confident that I could recognize examples of
terrestrial resilience anywhere. So I decided to test myself: If I thought back
to open spaces in my life, could I guess based on my new-found knowledge whether
or not they were resilient? I chose three very different places, began to think
about my answers, and opened DataBasin to help me verify them.
Growing up in
a Westchester suburb by a wood, I often saw deer, squirrels, birds, raccoons
and even a fox, plus countless different types of trees and plants. As biodiverse
as it is today, my main concern was its resilience, an indicator of future
biodiversity. The more complex the physical features of the land underlying an ecosystem,
the better the chance that it will continue to support many species over time. I
immediately thought back to the hilly landforms in my hometown woods. Some of the
hills are shaded and others receive more sun. These small variations indicate the
presence of microclimates, or the different environments within larger habitats
that provide niches for organisms to live. Complexity and microclimates are
essential components of resilient places, but would these traits be enough to
sustain the woods I’ve always loved? I hoped the answer would be yes.
When I found
the site on DataBasin, I was surprised to see that the area scored average or
below average for resilience. However, I quickly realized that this result
should have been no surprise. Those hills are not very complex—at least not
compared with the dramatic areas that normally harbor microclimates. Even if
the land below the forest had been complex, I had forgotten about the other
factors that create resilience.
is important, too, because the ability to move from point to point and in many
directions without barriers allows species to access food and other resources.
Without connectedness, resilience becomes less likely as the climate changes. Given
the many roads and human development in the area, the woods could not possibly
be seamlessly connected with other open space--as DataBasin confirmed.
of resilience is the extent of representation of different geologies and
habitat types. According to DataBasin, the woods in Westchester represent only
one habitat type and one geology type. Of course, representation is usually considered
on a regional scale—not on a local scale of 21 acres. Finally, the woods are not
very intact (most likely because they are in a suburban area) meaning their
condition is less than ideal for supporting natural processes.
I considered the next location more realistically: my college campus, which is
also an arboretum. Even though I feel surrounded by nature there, Haverford is in
the suburbs of Philadelphia, and that fact was sure to limit how resilient the
campus might be. Like the woods near my home, the bucolic campus is not complex,
connected, geodiverse or intact. DataBasin showed that it does contain a
variety of habitat types, such as northern swamp, central oak-pine, northern
hardwood and conifer, emergent marsh, and aquatic (a pond and stream). Although
Haverford’s arboretum contributes to the beauty and serenity of the campus, it was
still not the example of resilience I sought.
data for Bear Mountain--the greener the pixels are, the more resilient the land
I decided to
venture into a more promising area: Bear Mountain State Park, where I used to
go hiking and backpacking. I typed the name into DataBasin, knowing that this
would be my best chance at finding resilience in a familiar place. I learned
that Bear Mountain has mostly above average and far above average resilience
scores. For example, the degree of connectedness is greater than in Westchester
or Haverford because there are fewer barriers, such as roads, crossing the
landscape. The land is also extremely complex, which made sense as I recalled
hiking up and down the steep mountainsides. Notably, Bear Mountain is composed
of mafic and granitic geologies, the ones most commonly underlying mountains.
High granitic landforms also tend to have the best views, and are therefore
well protected (i.e., represented). Finally—a site that intuitively seems
resilient and actually is resilient.
from halfway up Bear Mountain shows the complex landscape, which promises to
places through the lens of resilience science using mapping tools was fascinating.
It’s easy to assume the natural areas you appreciate are resilient, but it’s
also important to recognize that they may not be – and why. My armchair adventures
on DataBasin enabled me to take a step back from what I saw on the ground and
better understand the meaningful lands in my life. Going forward, I am sure to use
this knowledge when I return to school this fall. As I continue to work with
data academically, I will bring greater insight into how these abstract and
often seemingly impersonal tools add depth and character to my studies, just as
they did to the landscapes I love.
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