• Recent changes in plant and avian communities at Creamer's Refuge, Alaska using field and remote sensing observations

      Tauzer, Lila Maria; Powell, Abby; Bret-Harte, Syndonia; Sharbaugh, Susan; Prakash, Anupma (2013-05)
      Plant communities in the north are being profoundly altered by climate warming, but our understanding of the extent and outcomes of this ecosystem shift is limited. Although it was assumed local vegetation changes will affect avian communities, few data exist to investigate this relationship. In an interior Alaska boreal forest ecosystem, this study capitalized on available resources to assess simultaneous change in plant and avian communities over 35 years. Biological changes were quantified in summer avian community data (species composition, diversity, and richness) and in vegetation using archived field data, and supplemented this data with remote sensing observations for a similar time period to assess the validity of this method for documenting environmental change. Field and remote sensing data both documented successional changes resulting in denser, more coniferous-dominated habitats. Birds responded accordingly, which indicates a rapid avian response to habitat change and that they are good indicators of environmental change. Information gained provides more accurate evaluations of habitat dynamics throughout the interior boreal forest and highlights the importance of considering successional change in all long-term climate studies. It allows for better predictions of future habitat change and acts as a strong baseline for future environmental monitoring.