Building a Regional Network Focused on Climate Change & Invasive Species in the Northwest

Zebra mussels are among the most devastating aquatic invasive species to invade North American fresh waters. They attach themselves to boats, so if someone uses a boat in an infected lake and then launches the boat in Washington waters, they could be introduced here. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has an early detection program to help prevent the introduction of zebra mussels in Washington. If introduced, these mussels have the potential to change ecosystems and food sources critical to native mussels and species such as salmon and trout.
Source: Alexander Hardy, CC By 2.0

Climate change and invasive species threaten ecosystems across the Northwest and the world, creating significant challenges for managing our lands and waters. Although both are recognized as major threats, there are still many questions about how climate change and invasive species interact to create novel and complex challenges for our ecosystems. 

The Northwest Climate Adaptation Science Center (NW CASC), U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and EcoAdapt have recently launched the Pacific Northwest Regional Invasive Species and Climate Change (PNW RISCC) Network to help natural resource managers and biologists incorporate climate change science into invasive species management. The network’s goal is to establish a community of practice that helps resource managers make climate-smart decisions around invasive species prevention, early detection, control, monitoring and future research activities. 

 

Though we have some ideas of how climate change and invasive species interact, we know little about how climate change will affect invasive species in the Northwest, especially at the fine geographic scales needed to manage them. Concerning patterns from other regions are showing that as the climate warms, some invasive species are shifting their ranges into new areas that were once unsuitable for them. Certain invasives will be able to persist for longer periods throughout the year as the timing of our seasons shifts under climate change. Moreover, increasing wildfires, floods, droughts and other disturbances are leaving landscapes vulnerable, creating new opportunities for invasion. Although all regions are likely to see interactions between invasive species and climate change, different regions will experience the impacts differently. 

The PNW RISCC Network will build on work that is underway in other regions, including the Northeast RISCC Management Network and a Hawaii-based working group led by the Pacific Islands Climate Adaptation Science Center. The PNW RISCC Network will also use findings from a recently published NW CASC-funded synthesis paper of climate-induced expansions of invasive species in the Pacific Northwest as a starting point for understanding the gaps in available science. 

In the Northeast, the RISCC Management Network is working to reduce the combined effects of invasive species and climate change by synthesizing relevant science, building strong manager-scientist communities and conducting priority research. Founded by Northeast CASC’s Dr. Toni Lyn Morelli and colleagues in 2016, the Northeast RISCC Management Network has grown to nearly 450 invasion scientists, climate scientists, natural resource managers, policymakers and other local stakeholders. The Network comes together through workshops, meetings, symposia and webinars to share regional knowledge about current management strategies, learn about managers’ specific information needs and identify ways to translate research into management action. “Managing the interaction of invasive species and climate change is an overwhelming task for any one individual or agency,” says Dr. Morelli. “But together, we can pool our knowledge and our experience to bring the latest science and the most effective actions to improve outcomes and, ultimately, achieve conservation in the face of global change.”

Similarly, the Pacific Islands CASC is partnering with the Pacific Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species and the Hawaii Invasive Species Council to bring together a working group on climate change and invasives in Hawaii. The goal of this partnership is to improve managers’ access to and use of climate information resources that address the intersection of these threats to island sustainability, food security and economic prosperity.

In its early stages, the PNW RISCC Network has established an Advisory Team and is working on a needs assessment survey to better understand priority management questions and opportunities in the Northwest. Says Paul Heimowitz, Regional Invasive Species Coordinator for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and a key partner of the project, “It’s exciting to see how quickly a Northwest collaboration has formed around the intersection of these two huge conservation challenges. There are many potential angles the PNW RISCC could address, and so the upcoming needs assessment will be a valuable tool to aim our focus on the highest collective priorities.” 

If you are interested in participating in the Pacific Northwest RISCC Network, please contact EcoAdapt’s Rachel Gregg at rachel.g@ecoadapt.org