Cory Davis


National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)


Dr. Steven Running at the University of Montana Numerical Terradynamics Simulation Group (


The US National Park Service (NPS) faces the challenge of maintaining ecosystem function and biodiversity within National Parks in the face of climate and land use change. The goal of this study is to assess park vulnerability to current and near-term future climate and land use changes based on detailed reconstructions and analyses of change and ecological response over the past 50-100 years. New satellite and other technologies have increasingly allowed reconstruction for past decades of climate and land use at fine spatial scales and consequences for ecosystem processes. These reconstructions reveal high levels of spatial heterogeneity across the US in directions and magnitude of change in climate, net primary productivity (NPP), fire risk, and stream flows. This study will harness these new data sets to better inform the NPS about threats to National Parks.

Specific objectives are:

  1. Quantify change in land use, climate (mean and variability), ecosystem responses, and biodiversity during 1900-2003 (coarse spatial resolution) and 1982-2003 (fine spatial resolution).
  2. Evaluate statistical patterns of association between land use and climate, ecosystem function, and biodiversity during this time period as a means of validating vulnerability indices.
  3. Evaluate the vulnerability of parks to current and near-term future land use and climate change based on past change and ecosystem and biodiversity response.
  4. Derive guidelines for mitigating the primary vulnerabilities of each park.

The study will include the 70 National Parks in the US that are relatively large in area (>35000 ha) and will include the larger ecosystem surrounding each park. Potential drivers (climate and land use), ecosystem responses (NPP, stream flow, fire risk, and habitat area), and biodiversity (representation of native species guilds, exotic species, and species richness) will be quantified across the 70 national parks during the 1900s using NASA and other imagery, data, and models. Statistical patterns of association will be used to evaluate the plausibility of cause and effect relationships between the potential drivers and response variables. The vulnerability of each of the parks to current and near-term future climate and land use change will be assessed based on the Rapid Assessment and Prioritization of Protected Area Management (RAPPAM) methodology. The results will be used to suggest to the NPS the primary issues that threaten the parks, which parks are high priority for mitigation, and potential mitigation strategies.