Northern Arizona University researchers have landed a $1.9 million grant to assess the spread of non-native, invasive plant species throughout Arizona’s Sonoran Desert and across Department of Defense lands.
The Department of Defense grant launched NAU faculty, staff and students on a four-year task to model multiple features of Arizona’s desert landscape.
“This is a great opportunity to take the tools, techniques and skills we have developed to an entirely new ecosystem,” said principal investigator Brett Dickson, assistant research professor of wildlife and landscape ecology who has studied wildlife, fire and invasive species in northern Arizona for the last decade. “And it satisfies the academic needs of students, giving them access to cutting-edge tools and technologies in research.”
The program will assess the invasion risk, fire risk and wildlife habitat associated with key species to assist managers in making appropriate decisions regarding the conservation of military and adjacent lands under current and future climatic conditions.
Problematic species, such as African buffelgrass, red brome, Sahara mustard, Mediterranean grass and arugula, are invading the habitat of several threatened or endangered native species, and allow fires to become more frequent, more destructive and more costly in an area historically devoid of fire.
The project is expected to provide valuable research opportunities for students, benefit Arizona’s economy and protect its natural resources. Researchers, working out of NAU’s Lab of Landscape Ecology and Conservation Biology, hope to produce tangible results that can be rapidly applied to pressing conservation and management questions.
“We are not just addressing science for the sake of science,” said principal investigator Steve Sesnie, assistant research professor of remote sensing. “We are translating science into a framework suitable for management.”
The team also is anticipating the technological advances that will be made in the next four years, and is excited to improve the methods used to measure landscape-scale change over time, especially in light of ongoing climate change and impediments to the movement of wide-ranging species of wildlife.
The program works in cooperation with U.S. Department of Defense, the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The program has also received additional funding totaling $2.5 million.