Catherine Ravenscroft

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Catherine Ravenscroft
University of Wisconsin-Madison

As an undergraduate biological science major I focused on ecological research and environmental chemistry, pursuits charged mainly by my interest in the potential ecological impacts of climate change. In 2005 I completed a Master’s program in environmental science and management which allowed me to further my work in the sciences, as well as develop a better understanding of the legal, economic, and social aspects of biological conservation. Currently I am a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison researching the potential impacts of climate change on priority conservation areas in northeastern Minnesota in a collaborative project with The Nature Conservancy. In looking at alternative forest management strategies under several climate change scenarios I am evaluating the future viability of current regional conservation priorities and determining the extent to which forest management can change trajectories of climate induced alterations to forest composition.

The emerging threat associated with climate change substantiates the need to integrate the associated risks into regional conservation strategies. Although climate change will likely alter patterns of community composition due to differential shifts in species ranges, projected impacts must be considered in the context of the interaction of climate change with forest management and other ecosystem processes known to exert considerable influence on patterns of community composition and physiognomy. Defining realistic conservation targets, and implementing appropriate management strategies to achieve them, requires the application of ecological research to characterize the nature of these interactions and to make projections of potential outcomes.

My coursework and research has allowed me to explore how ecological principles can be effectively applied in conservation planning. Results from my current project, communicated in several publications and presentations, will illuminate management options that are particularly effective in mitigating the impact of climate change on forest composition and productivity and identify the ecological processes which are important determinants of species response to climate change. Although management activity has the potential to reduce the impacts of climate change some degree of compositional shifts and/or regional extirpations may occur irrespective of management. The Nature Conservancy will utilize results to re-evaluate regional conservation priorities to ensure the most efficient use of limited resources. Additionally, results will be communicated to two regional management collaboratives, established by The Nature Conservancy, in an effort to integrate the threat of climate change into their management plans.

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