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Agricultural Best Management Practices and Models - Assessing Vulnerability

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Project Description

To help protect both people and nature influenced by agriculturally-dominated watersheds in the Great Lakes region, the research, conservation, and agricultural outreach community must collaborate to understand how climate change will influence the success of conservation practices typically employed to protect ecological systems. In our region, there are many research teams working to better understand how agricultural and ecological systems are connected at a watershed scale (i.e., through SWAT modeling and other approaches), teams focused on understanding how to best link outputs from field studies and modeling efforts into policy changes (e.g., how do we encourage prioritization and implement targeting), and teams focused on fine scale assessments of how well particular best management practices perform in terms of reducing stress on the environment. Some of these efforts have taken steps to try to incorporate climate change, but many questions and uncertainties remain (Soil and Water Conservation Society 2007). In particular, there is potential for “surprises” in how these models and field-based practices work as the rate of temperature increase continues to accelerate (Girvetz et al. 2009). Over time, temperature will have stronger and stronger effects on evapotranspiration rates, leading to changes in the appropriateness of our “rules of thumb” regarding the extent to which particular levels of precipitation may cause run-off, and run-off related stresses. Being able to think about how field level management practices (BMPs), are affected by climate drivers, and how we should respond in terms of conservation strategies, requires that we draw upon the expertise of the research community, conservation practitioners, and agricultural extension professionals, respectively.  The goal of this project is to use literature review and expert elicitation to frame vulnerabilities and uncertainties associated with conserving ecosystem services in agricultural watersheds.  We anticipate that this work will highlight priority research areas, and facilitate conservation planning in the Great Lakes region by highlighting the climate-related strengths and weaknesses of various watershed models and BMPs.