Modeling New England species on the move

New data science project focused on range shifts of hundreds of plant and animal

Modeling New England species on the move

New data science project focused on range shifts of hundreds of plant and animal

In response to changing climate, populations of plants and animals move to more hospitable locations. Predicting where species will end up, and how New England farmers and rural communities need to plan and adapt accordingly is the focus of a new interdisciplinary research initiative led by the University of Maine. 

The National Science Foundation awarded $4 million over four years to the EPSCoR Research Infrastructure project to develop novel approaches and software for modeling, visualizing and forecasting spatial and temporal data. The team — researchers from UMaine, University of Vermont, University of Maine at Augusta and Champlain College — will build some of the first mechanistic models of shifts in species ranges in response to climate change.

By harnessing diverse current and historical data with space and time dimensions, scientists will be able to better predict and help rural communities respond to the impact of climate change on biodiversity.

The goal is to better understand how plant and animal species — from forest plants and wildlife to diseases and their carriers, and agricultural crops — will respond to a changing climate in the next century. Data science and modeling will help inform farmers’ adaptation strategies, according to the research team.

The four-year initiative has multifaceted economic implications for Maine and Vermont, which are both EPSCoR (Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) states. It will help create a trained workforce and strengthen research in the high-growth field of data science, provide insights to help conserve natural resources critical to livelihoods and cultural identity, and help farmers and other community stakeholders better prepare and manage their crops.

“Climate change is no longer an abstraction for farmers, foresters and others making their living off the land in Maine and Vermont. People are living the change. Scientists urgently need to move from warning about climate change to predicting the detailed nature of the changes we can expect and communicating this effectively to the people who need the information,” according to principal investigator Brian McGill, UMaine professor of biological sciences, who has a joint appointment in the Sen. George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions. 

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