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What We Do: Scientific Support We Offer


Biogeography and Vegetation Mapping
Contaminant Analysis
Landscape and Connectivity Modeling
Land-Use Change
Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES)
Population and Conservation Genetics
Population Dynamics and Monitoring
Decision Support Tools
Watershed Processes and Wetland Health
Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation
Integrated Landscape Planning

Biogeography and Vegetation Mapping

Modern vegetation ecology lends particular insight to the distribution of native and invasive species and their relative resilience to repeated fire and mechanical disturbance. Work within the IEMM focuses especially on Mediterranean-type ecosystems that are common in Southern California, with special emphasis on spatial and temporal patterns of species diversity, community composition, post-disturbance resilience, influence of exotic species, and habitat preference of species. Results from these studies have guided refinements to vegetation mapping and restoration and management targets.
white seabirds flying over coastline
two beetles climbing narrow plant stems
person measuring a bird's wing
cluster of purple flowers
man in distance walking across a green field
five shorebirds standing in water
woman walking across brown and green hillside

Contaminant Analysis

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as PCBs, PBDEs, and DDT occur throughout California's waterways and are known causes of reproductive and physiological impairments in wildlife. Emerging research addresses the bioaccumulative implications of nontargeted compounds (natural, emerging, and/or unregulated), yet little is known about their presence and persistence in coastal species. In partnership with SDSU's Graduate School of Public Health, we use novel instrumentation to analyze nontargeted contaminants with targeted POPs in seabird, sea turtle, and marine mammal tissues from coastal California. This two-part method is crucial for rigorous and efficient biological and environmental monitoring; it identifies a wide range of both known and previously unknown persistent and bioaccumulative chemicals, and comprehensively assesses true toxin burdens to wildlife.

Landscape and Connectivity Modeling

IEMM uses a broad array of theoretical, modeling, and observation based techniques to innovate concepts, methods and applications in environmental and natural resource conservation and policy-making. IEMM has led numerous projects focused on landscape connectivity modeling and planning; wildlife crossing infrastructure placement and design; wildlife habitat and biodiversity dynamics; and the study of populations and development, with a focus on environmental effects in relation to human health, natural disasters, and biodiversity dynamics. Data from IEMM studies are being used to guide reserve design, land acquisitions, as well as restoration and management targets.

Land-Use Change

The combination of land-use and climatic shifts alter the viable uses of different regions – and that impacts how people live. Land-use change analysis can impact global decisions based on large-scale effects like warming, aridification, and shifting disturbance regimes, meso-scale impacts like border security, and even micro effects like the rising water levels in local estuaries or wetland accretion.

Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES)

Twenty-four specific ecosystem services were identified and assessed by the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, a 2005 UN-sponsored report that looked at the state of the world’s ecosystems. Of particular interest to the IEMM are the ecological, socio-economic and policy impacts of PES programs. Highlighted ecosystem services such as climate change mitigation, watershed services and biodiversity conservation are all critical policy issues in Southern California and beyond.

Population and Conservation Genetics

Evolution, molecular ecology and conservation genetics can be studied using microsatellites, ISSRS, mtDNA and nDNA genotyping and sequencing. Past and current IEMM projects project focus on interpreting patterns of genetic variation to 1) determine the relationships among different evolutionary lineages, 2) estimate historical and contemporary connectivity among populations, and 3) make management and conservation recommendations. Recent projects also include the development of software for population genetic analysis; conservation status of evolutionary hotspots in Southern California; and investigations of dispersal and colonization patterns.

Population Dynamics and Monitoring

Understanding population status and dynamics can be critical for appropriate management of species and habitats. Behavioral attributes of organisms can shape fine-scale population structure in the context of anthropogenic habitat change and in response to management actions. IEMM supports multiple projects that involve field-based monitoring and assessment techniques to track populations and guide management strategies. One IEMM approach is to consider questions of fundamental and applied importance in a broad sense, and then refine the questions based on field experience and observations of natural systems.

Decision Support Tools

IEMM scientists have provided science and decision support tools to facilitate decision making that is fundamentally collaborative in nature and strives to provide the most meaningful evaluation to all stakeholders. Quantitative techniques can be applied to support decision making in broadly understood resource management situations dealing with both humans and natural resources. IEMM research applies multiple criteria evaluation techniques to generate meaningful recommendations and support for decision making on topics such as acquisitions, restoration targets, and other management strategies.

Watershed Processes and Wetland Health

Humans and ecosystems depend on and affect watershed processes that move water, sediment, and chemicals through a landscape. Watershed analysis describes and quantifies connections between natural landscape properties, human activities, and ecosystem services related to soil, water resources, and aquatic ecosystems. Watershed analysis focuses on understanding the main processes that control water quantity, water quality, sediment transport, and aquatic habitat. A particular focus is the effects of urbanization and fire on watershed processes in semi-arid climates.

Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation

IEMM supports planning for climate resilience in local ecosystems and communities through research into climate impacts on ecological systems and identification of specific climate adaptation strategies that can be employed to reduce the effects of those impacts. Shifting environmental conditions, increased variability in landscape dynamics, and synergistic effects of co-occurring stressors (e.g., urbanization, wildfire) are research topics that have or are being studied by IEMM scientists. Combining reviews of the current state of the science on climate impacts within southern California and beyond as well as new research into the design of climate adaptation strategies, IEMM approaches climate impacts and adaptation from multiple angles. IEMM supports adaptive management strategies pairing actions with monitoring to ensure these actions are effective and efficient in addressing climate impacts.

Integrated Landscape Planning

Integrating ecological research into planning efforts is key to IEMM’s goal of delivering actionable science. IEMM researchers work with stakeholder networks to deliver data products and decision support tools that are accessible to planners and managers. Through a collaborative, stakeholder-driven process, these products are then used to inform and guide planning and policy actions that can preserve biodiversity and ecological functioning through city, transportation, land-use, and conservation planning efforts. IEMM is committed to accomplishing this integration with interdisciplinary approaches, cross-jurisdictional partnerships, and multi-sector engagement.