The Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit program facilitates cooperation among the U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division; universities; state fish and wildlife agencies; and private organizations in programs of research and education related to fish and wildlife resource management. The objectives of the program are: 1) to conduct research on fish and wildlife ecology and to investigate the production, utilization, management, protection, and restoration of populations of fish and wildlife; 2) to provide technical and professional education and continuing education primarily on the graduate and professional level in the fields of fish and wildlife management, teaching, research, demonstration and administration; and 3) to make facts, methods, and new findings discovered through research available to scientists, landowners, sportsmen, outdoor recreationists, conservationists, extension workers, educators, and local, state and federal agencies. The Unit also works closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and assists in the support of the agency's information and technical assistance needs with regard to trust species, joint ventures, and management initiatives. The operations of the Alabama Unit are governed by a Coordinating Committee operating under a formal cooperative agreement signed by the U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division; Auburn University; the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Wildlife Management Institute. The Alabama Unit has identified four areas in which to concentrate its research efforts: 1) determining the effects of forest management practices on wildlife populations, 2) investigating the ecology and management of riverine systems, 3) investigating the status, life history, habitat requirements, and population dynamics of species of conservation concern, and 4) investigating the ecology and management of fish and wildlife on landscape scales. The Unit will not be restricted to these areas of investigation; however, it will work towards the development of comprehensive research programs in each.

Effects of Forest Management on Wildlife Populations

Approximately 70% of non-urban land in Alabama is forested, much of it managed intensively for the production of forest products and recreation. Wildlife populations can be valuable components of forest lands. However, in some forests wildlife may be quite scarce, or desirable species may be absent or declining in abundance. The abundance and distribution of wildlife in woodlands depends upon available food and cover resources, which are in turn determined by forest management practices.

Timber management can have a major influence on wildlife populations, and information is required to evaluate these influences and provide for the management of wildlife populations and communities in association with timber management. The effects of timber rotation schedule, forest composition, burning and thinning schedules, snag retention or removal, and size of clear cuts, on wildlife populations needs further investigation. Area sensitive species and species sensitive to forest fragmentation must be identified and their requirements determined. Responses of wildlife communities and populations to reforestation practices should be evaluated.

Wildlife is of high economic and aesthetic value and represents an important component of our forest ecosystem. It is important that we develop the necessary information to use science-based approaches for retaining and where necessary restoring forest wildlife populations.

Ecology and Management of Riverine Systems

A typical southeastern river system is a wetland complex composed of flowing-water aquatic habitats, adjacent riparian habitats, and periodically flooded bottomland habitats. Also, any particular stream corridor is just a segment of a drainage system with a sequence of corridor zones associated with streams from headwaters to large rivers. River corridors are important sources of renewable natural resources such as commercial and recreational fisheries, aquatic-oriented wildlife, and terrestrial wildlife utilizing productive bottomland areas. In addition, these waterways and associated lands are highly valued recreation and aesthetic areas due to high biological productivity and landscape diversity.

River corridors have always been, and continue to be, the focus of many forms of economic and land developments that exert some effect on these systems. Impacts to stream and river systems basically stem from two general factors, altered hydrologic conditions (i.e., water quality and quantity) and physical alterations of streams and associated lands (e.g., agricultural practices, backwater draining, navigation improvements). Both land and water changes tend to influence the integrity of instream, riparian, and bottomland communities since all these habitats are dependent on water/land relationships. The natural flowing-water processes of erosion and deposition impose a dynamic character to instream, riparian, and bottomland habitats and their associated fish and wildlife communities. Human modifications to stream corridors tend to intensify this dynamic character and frequently require continual human intervention to maintain what amounts to artificial stream corridor conditions.

The most pressing areas of research involving stream corridors concern the interactions between fish and wildlife communities and the physical and chemical processes of flowing waters. The Unit develops research programs and project that integrate fish and wildlife resource requirements and functions with the hydrologic processes that influence stream corridor habitats. Specific areas for development include: renewable resource management, conservation of species, preservation of communities, impact assessment and prediction of effects, mitigation and restoration, and the management of instream flows.Top

Endangered Species

Numerous species and subspecies that occur in Alabama have been declared endangered or threatened by the federal government (Threatened and Endangered Species System, USFWS). Information on the status, habitat requirements, and life history of these taxa is required to permit identification and declaration of critical habitat and to enable the formulation of management practices providing for their protection and, where possible, eventual recovery. Addressing the needs of these species now may prevent the need for listing them as threatened or endangered in the future. Research needs vary greatly by taxon; however, the Unit is capable of enlisting a diversity of expertise in addressing identified needs. Research in this area will be developed primarily in response to specific requests for assistance by cooperating agencies.

Landscape Ecology

Traditionally, research in wildlife and fisheries has focused on population or community dynamics on micro- or undefined spatial scales, with the size of a study area defined by protocols for collecting data or by management units such as forest stands or agricultural fields. Recent work in the field of landscape ecology strongly suggests that many ecological processes of interest to wildlife and fisheries researchers and managers occur on a variety of spatial scales, ranging from micro-  (i.e., local or stand-scale) to meso-   (i.e., regional or landscape-scale) to macro- (i.e., continental) dynamics.

Landscape processes often are an emergent ecological property that cannot be directly extrapolated from observations collected on micro- scales. Inferences from micro-scale or aspatial studies could be misleading in addressing the meso-scale ecological effects of increasing urbanization, changes in land use, and habitat fragmentation evident on modern landscapes. Recent advances in technology are making spatially explicit data covering large areas widely available at relatively low cost. These data and the tools required to access and interpret them are rapidly becoming essential and affordable to wildlife and fisheries biologists.

The Unit will develop research that quantifies and evaluates meso-scale, landscape processes for wild populations and the ecological communities that sustain them. The Unit will also be involved in other landscape approaches, including the development and application of spatially explicit, individual-based behavioral models and the use of landscape characteristics to predict the distribution of wild populations.