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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Oklahoma: Warmer Streams Could Add to Stresses on Rare Water Species

Four fat mucket mussels sit in the palm of a hand

A researcher displays juvenile freshwater fat mucket mussels that will be used as stand-ins for rarer species in studies on water temperature tolerance. Study data will help researchers assess how vulnerable rare Oklahoma aquatic species will be to potential warming tied to climate change. Photo: David Martinez, USFWS. Download.

Several rare and distinctively-named creatures depend for survival on the cool, mountain-fed Little and Kiamichi River Basins in southeastern Oklahoma and southwestern Arkansas. At Little River National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas, the Ouachita rock pocketbook — a freshwater mussel — filters the water alongside two other endangered mussels, the scaleshell and winged mapleleaf. A small federally threatened fish called the leopard darter also hides in these upland streams.

Because streams in these river basins originate in the Ouachita Mountains, their water is relatively cool compared to streams in other ecosystems such as the Great Plains. High temperatures range from about 64 degrees Fahrenheit in winter to 84 degrees in summer — a range that suits popular game fish such as smallmouth bass.

But threats abound. Water pollution, agriculture runoff and the construction of dams and reservoirs have already shrunken habitat for these rare aquatic species. A historic drought is compounding the problem. And now, biologists speculate the fish and mussels could face another potential stressor: rising stream temperatures resulting from climate change, if projections by an intergovernmental panel prove accurate. 

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Wyoming: ‘Perfect Storm’ Fuels Mountain Pine Beetle Epidemic

An extreme closeup of a mountain pine beetle
Triggered by a “perfect storm” of extended droughts, warm winters, and old, dense forests, mountain pine beetle populations have exploded across a landscape of lodgepole pine trees throughout Colorado and southeastern Wyoming. Photo: USDA Forest Service. Download.

Lodgepole pine forests in parts of Wyoming and other areas of the Intermountain West are being infested by the native mountain pine beetle – a voracious bug smaller than your little fingernail that is thriving in a warming climate.

Triggered by a “perfect storm” of extended droughts, warm winters, and old, dense forests, mountain pine beetle populations have exploded across a landscape of lodgepole pine trees throughout Colorado and southeastern Wyoming.

The mountain pine beetle is a true predator on many western pine trees because to successfully reproduce, the beetles must kill host trees. They typically kill trees already weakened by disease or old age, but even a healthy tree’s defensive mechanisms can be exhausted when beetle numbers are at epidemic levels. The beetle attacks pines in late summer, dispersing a chemical signal that attracts other beetles to mass-attack the tree. When the beetles bore through the bark of the tree, they introduce blue-stain fungus, which can work quickly to kill the tree. Trees stressed by drought and old-age are unable to produce sufficient defenses to fend off beetle attacks. The beetles form tunnels and lay eggs underneath the bark, which hatch into larvae. The larvae spend the winter underneath the bark and emerge as adults in the summer, beginning the cycle again.

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California: Incorporating Climate Change into Planning California’s Bay-Delta Future

A duck cleaning its feathers on water

A Northern Pintail. This dabbling duck can be found in much of the Northern Hemisphere, including the San Joaquin Bay-Delta, although in considerably lower numbers than in the past. Credit: Dan Cox, USFWS. Download.

Camera iconMore Photos: San Francisco Bay-Delta on Flickr

As federal, state and local experts continue to examine the factors contributing to the recent decline of California’s Bay-Delta ecosystem, the effects of climate change have surged to the forefront of study.

The Bay-Delta (Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta-San Francisco Bay Estuary) is considered one of the most vital estuary ecosystems in the U.S. The Delta is at the crossroads of federal and state operated delivery systems that transport water from Northern California to agricultural and urban water users to the south.  It’s a source of drinking water for approximately 22 million people while supporting an approximate $30 billion agricultural industry. The Delta and its watersheds also support several threatened and endangered species, and a popular recreational and commercial fishing industry.

But the Bay-Delta is in the throes of a well-chronicled crisis. Four recent years of below average precipitation have hammered this fragile ecosystem, contributing to the puzzling decline of the Delta fishery and the collapse of California's salmon fishing industry. The combination of decreased water supplies (from the drought), and seasonal water restrictions to protect the threatened delta smelt, endangered Chinook salmon and other species, has created a volatile political situation.

A scenic view of trees and water
Credit: Steve Culberson, USFWS.

Climate change, barely mentioned a decade ago, is now considered a major factor in the Delta planning picture. The rise in sea level, temperature, and changes in the timing of rainfall and snowmelt– all considered effects of climate change – are altering the landscape.

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