Science to Action Fellow Researches Climate Change and Playas in the Great Plains
Meet Rachel Owen, one of our 2017-2018 Science to Action Fellows!
The Science to Action Fellowship is provided through a partnership between the USGS National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center (NCCWSC) and Michigan State University. The program supports graduate students in developing a product that puts science into action, directly applying scientific research related to climate change impacts on fish, wildlife, or ecosystems to decision making about natural resources. For her fellowship, Rachel is exploring playa ecosystem vulnerability in future climates.
Read on to learn more about how Rachel is working with stakeholders to help conserve playas in the face of a changing climate.
What are Playas?
Playas are shallow, rain-fed wetlands found throughout the Great Plains. There are more than 80,000 playas in the region, and they’re an important source of water for wildlife and people. Playas provide crucial habitat for many wildlife species, such as waterfowl, frogs, and pollinators. They are also important resting points for a broad diversity of migratory birds, some of which are flying from the southernmost point of South America all the way to the Arctic. Playas are also important for humans, contributing up to 95% of the water to the Ogallala aquifer, which feeds the region’s water supply. However, playas are threatened by decreasing rainfall and increasing temperatures throughout the year. For example, increased temperatures will cause water to evaporate more quickly, which leaves less time for seeds that depend on moist soil to grow - ultimately impacting the ability of playas to support migratory birds. Many playas have already been lost to agricultural pressures, and now changing climate poses an additional threat to the already vulnerable playa ecosystems and the functions they support.
Rachel is working with stakeholders to describe playa sensitivities to climate change and explore conservation strategies. In partnership with the University of Missouri and Missouri Transect EPSCoR Project, she is conducting a research survey aimed at gathering information on how communities in the Great Plains currently view climate change. Rachel is also collecting data on how communities perceive the challenges and solutions for problems caused by climate change in playa wetlands and agricultural ecosystems. Through this survey, she aims to provide tools and support stakeholder engagement through productive discussions about issues impacting playa wetlands and their functions in communities across the Great Plains.
The request for information through Rachel’s survey did not originate from NCCWSC or U.S. Government funds. The survey is being conducted independently by the School of Natural Resources at the University of Missouri and the Missouri Transect EPSCoR Project.
Rachel is inviting community members and stakeholders to provide input on their experiences regarding playas and climate change. Access the survey here.