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From the Ground Up: September 2015

Digital Bird's Eye View of My Special Places

From the Ground Up Blog Header Diana

Diana Schoder using DataBasin (left) /Circled are some of the resilient lands Diana analyzed (rt).

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In this installment of From the Ground Up, OSI summer intern Diana Schoder, who is studying economics and environmental studies at Haverford College, relates the concept of climate resilience to the landscapes she knows best.


 


 

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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.

After weeks 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.

Ardsley, New York
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.

Connectedness 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.

Another measure 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.

Haverford, PA
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.

Highlands, NY

Resilience Map for Bear MountainResilience data for Bear Mountain--the greener the pixels are, the more resilient the land is.

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.

Bear Mountain Microclimates

Looking Ahead
Viewing familiar 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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