The RISCC network plays a key role in meeting the challenge invasive species pose in a warming world
The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies recently awarded its 2021 Climate Adaptation Leadership Award for Natural Resources to the Northeast Regional Invasive Species and Climate Change (RISCC) Network, an organization co-founded by Bethany Bradley, UMass Amherst professor of environmental conservation and university co-director of the Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center (NE CASC).
The award, which recognizes “exemplary leadership in reducing climate-related threats and promoting adaptation of the nation’s natural resources,” honors the leadership role that the Northeast RISCC network plays in meeting the challenge posed by invasive species in a warming world. Established in 2016, RISCC is supported by NE CASC, a federally funded research initiative that delivers actionable science to help fish, wildlife, water, land and people adapt to a changing climate.
Invasive species and climate change represent two of the five major global threats to ecosystems, according to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. The intersection of these threats is particularly challenging in the Northeast, which has become a hotspot for future plant invasions because invasive species prevalent in southern states are shifting their ranges northward in response to global warming. Understanding and adapting to interactions between these two forms of global change are a top priority for natural resource managers.
RISCC aims to reduce the compounding effects of invasive species and climate change by synthesizing relevant science, sharing the needs and knowledge of managers, building stronger scientist-manager communities, and conducting priority research. The network includes invasion scientists, climate scientists, natural resource managers, policymakers, and stakeholders from the broader public, all of whom work collaboratively.
Bradley, whose research involves not just studying how climate change affects the movement of invasive species across the US, but also how best to bridge the gap between research and application, co-founded RISCC along with Toni-Lyn Morelli (Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, US Geological Survey and adjunct assistant professor in the department of environmental conservation) and Carrie Brown-Lima (director of the New York Invasive Species Research Institute) as a way to bring researchers and public stakeholders throughout the Northeast together to share best-practices and pressing concerns.
“About five years ago,” says Bradley, “I had a conversation with Morelli and Brown-Lima and realized that a lot of what I’d consider well-known to scientists wasn’t making it out into the community of managers. We academics too often think that ‘if you build it, they will come,’ but if managers can’t find your research, or don’t know it exists, then it’s like the research was never even done.”
RISCC is now paying off. “Bethany and her RISCC colleagues have been incredibly effective in breaking down barriers between academic researchers and invasive plant managers,” says Julie Richburg, the inland natural resources lead ecologist for the Trustees of Reservations (a state-wide non-profit land trust) and a member of the Massachusetts Invasive Plants Advisory Group. “One of RISCC’s greatest accomplishments has been to bring together individuals, agencies, and others throughout the Northeast who are involved in designating species as invasive for regulation or prohibition. This is important because invasive plants don’t respect political boundaries. Their ability to move across state lines makes the kind of coordinated regional dialogue and planning that Bethany and RISCC have envisioned a necessity.”
Though global climate change and the spread of invasive plants often seem like insurmountable problems, networks like RISCC, with their track record of success, show that “there are some really simple tools, like starting conversations between natural resource managers, that can help to solve big problems,” as Bradley puts it.
“Bethany and RISCC are a great example of how academic research can make a hugely positive impact in addressing daunting real-world problems,” says Nancy Olmsted, an invasive plant biologist for the Maine Department of Agriculture’s Conservation and Forestry—Natural Areas Program. “RISCC’s work has been remarkably helpful to my department in Maine and others across New England who are responsible for listing and regulating invasive plants.”