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Climate Change a Hot Topic at the Front Range Student Ecology Symposium

Students from the north central region presented last week at CSU's Front Range Student Ecology Symposium on a variety of ecological issues relevant to furthering our understanding of climate change impacts. In particular, students addressed the ecological implications of changing temperature, the resiliency of certain plants to drought conditions, and how climatic changes are shifting the range of some species into new territories. 

One presentation from CSU student Aaron Sidder looked at the geographic shifts of the mountain pine beetle under changing climate conditions in the Rocky Mountains. The Rockies have experienced an epidemic of pine beetle infestation in the last decade, resulting in tree mortality throughout the region. Aaron's research attempts to address the climate drivers behind this change, as well as the upward elevation shift in areas affected by these beetles. He used the Software for Assisted Habitat Modeling (SAHM) developed by the USGS Fort Collins Science Center to study these trends. The morning session also included management-relevant presentations from Alison Ketz of CSU on the use of models to estimate elk population in the Estes Valley, and Clint Leach, also of CSU who discussed the use of multi-source models to determine the relationship between mosquito populations and the spread of Dengue Fever within city limits. 

The following session offered presentations from Trace Martyn of the University of Wyoming and Ava Hoffman of CSU, both of whom addressed climate impacts to plants in the north central region. Trace, whose research is funded by the NC CSC, analyzed the mismatch between seed banks and existing sage-brush plant communities, and the vulnerability of these communities to extreme climate events such as drought and fire. Ava's presentation also had roots in climate impacts, looking at how different genotypes of the same prairie grass species respond differently to moderate and extreme drought scenarios. These two pieces of research have implications for ecosystem management in the north central region. 

Undergraduate students additionally presented on topics with implications for changing temperatures in future climate scenarios. Leah Temple of Colorado Mesa University discussed the increasing development rate of caterpillars in warmer climate zones; Sharif Druzi of the University of Colorado Boulder analyzed the drivers of honeybee fanning to keep hives at the correct temperature for larvae development; and Troy Waneka of CSU investigated the performance of insect species at different water temperatures to see how well the insects could function in warmer and cooler waters than they are accustomed to. 

All of the graduate and undergraduate presentations at the Front Range Student Ecology Symposium showcased the impressive research originating in the north central US. Contributions like these are what allow the North Central Climate Science Center to provide land managers with the data and tools they need to succeed in a changing climate - great job everyone!