Monitoring in the Context of Climate Change

Researcher monitors pinnipeds from coastal overlook at PORE.
Long-term monitoring of harbor seals at Point Reyes National Seashore can help identify the effects of climate change on marine ecosystems.

NPS /  Jessica Weinberg McClosky

Global climate change may be altering ecosystems in the San Francisco Bay Area - changing fundamental processes such as temperature regimes and streamflow patterns. The National Park Service Inventory and Monitoring (I&M) Program conducts monitoring to track changes in plant and animal communities that will help illuminate the effects of climate change on our parks.

Monitoring Freshwater Quantity and Quality

Freshwater systems, such as streams and ponds, in the San Francisco Bay Area I&M Network support a variety of protected species such as coho salmon and the California red-legged frog. Climate change could degrade habitat for such species by altering both the amount and the chemistry of water in their habitats, and by changing drought patterns. Monitoring to detect changes in water quantity and quality occurs network-wide.

Aquatic Species Monitoring

Spawning stocks of coho salmon along the West Coast are at about 1% of historic levels. Unreliable ocean conditions for migrating smolts and changing rainfall patterns that affect stream habitat for juveniles are among the factors influencing coho’s survival and recovery. Salmonid monitoring provides data on coho at different life stages that enables cross-comparison with streamflow and water quality data for insights into climate change’s effects on stream communities. At Pinnacles National Park, red-legged frogs inhabiting ponds are also monitored.
Close up of coho juvenile
Adequate habitat for coho juveniles depends in part on rainfall. Too little causes their streams to dry out prematurely, while too much can reduce water quality.

NPS /  Jessica Weinberg McClosky

Vegetation and Wetland Community Monitoring

Network parks include many unique vegetation communities that exist within a region of expanding urban landscapes. Added pressures on these communities include changes in temperature, fog, and precipitation that can alter community composition and threaten sensitive plant species. The I&M network is tracking changes in plant species within high-priority plant communities throughout Bay Area National Parks and the extent and condition of riparian wetlands at Pinnacles.

Avian Community Monitoring

Because they respond quickly to changes in resource conditions, changes in landbird populations may indicate changes in the plant communities or the climatic conditions upon which they depend. The network’s landbird monitoring program investigates changes in the diversity and abundance of songbirds in riparian habitats. In addition, species-specific monitoring focuses on the prairie falcon and the endangered northern spotted owl, two species especially sensitive to changes in their environment.
A fluffy Prairie Falcon nestling at Pinnacles National Park.
A Prairie Falcon nestling at Pinnacles National Park. As predators, Prairie Falcons are uniquely sensitive to changes in their environment.

NPS / Gavin Emmons

Monitoring Marine Indicators

The network monitors a variety of marine indicators that are highly vulnerable to climate change via increases in water temperature, more frequent El Niño events, and habitat loss due to sea-level rise. These include invertebrate and algal diversity and abundance in the rocky intertidal zone, as well as productivity and abundance of harbor seals, elephant seals, and endangered western snowy plovers.

For More Information:

San Francisco Bay Area Inventory and Monitoring Program Director
Daniel George

San Francisco Bay Area Inventory & Monitoring Network
Pacific Coast Science & Learning Center

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Last updated: May 7, 2018