Study of climate, land use and invasive species in and near national parks yields projections on biome vulnerability

Changing climate, how land is used and the presence of invasive species all have an impact on ecosystems. The influence of these factors can be studied and the results used to inform future management and decision practices. Narrowing this understanding to particular locations, such as national parks and immediately surrounding areas, can provide natural-resource managers and policy makers with specific actionable information. 


Professor Andy Hansen, Professor Steve Running and post-doc Nathan Piekielek, all IoE researchers, conducted a study on the impact of these factors on Protected Area Centered Ecosystems, or PACEs, which are national parks and the area immediately around them. With their colleagues from the USDA Forest Service and the National Park Service, Hansen and team conducted an assessment of protected areas and their surrounding ecosystems to assess the effect of climate and land use change. 


Protected areas tend to be national parks and areas that are specifically set aside to protect and maintain biological diversity. Since the boundaries of the protected area often do not include all of the land critical to maintain nutrient cycling, disturbance regimes and population dynamics, the more general term of “protected area centered ecosystem” (PACE) is used to describe the whole area where human activities may negatively influence ecological processes in the protected area. In the study recently published online by the Ecological Society of America, Hansen and colleagues were specifically examining the effects of changes in land use, invasive species, and climate on areas that are protected so that natural processes can occur and native species persist. 


For historical data, land use was measured as a change in housing density using U.S. Census data and land allocation designation. To look at the change in the non-native vascular plants in an area, the researchers examined a compilation of species lists and evidence records within national parks. The climate data set from the PRISM climate group based out of Oregon State University was used to examine change in climate of the period 1895-2009. Data from this set were averaged across each PACE and then used to derive rates of change on a 100-year basis. 


Climate, housing density, and climate suitability for vegetation types were projected forward to 2100 under Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios. The projections revealed that the rate of past change may occur at an increasingly faster rate, such that 30% of PACE areas may lose their current biomes by 2030. This information on the vulnerability across the protected areas can help land managers in determining the areas most at risk from these external factors and in developing effective adaptation strategies. 


Hansen, A.J., N. Piekielek, C. Davis, 

J. Haas, D. Theobald, J. Gross, W. Monahan,
S. Running. In press. Exposure of US National Parks to Land Use and Climate Change 1900-2100. Ecological Applications.



MSU IoE Office

Montana State University
605 Leon Johnson Hall
Bozeman, MT 59717
(406) 994-2374
MSU Director: Bruce Maxwell

UM IoE Office

The Universityi of Montana

The University of Montana
Davidson Honors College
Missoula, MT 59812
(406) 243-6058
UM Director: Maury Valett


Montana University System

Montana University System

Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education
2500 Broadway Street
Helena, MT 59620