A team of researchers led by Cooperative Extension agents at the University of Arizona has unveiled a dynamic website that offers the most up-to-date information available on climate, forests and woodlands, but with a personal, interactive twist: users who can't find the answers they seek can pose online questions to experts and get a response in less than 48 hours.
The eXtension website on climate, forests and woodlands focuses on answers to users' questions or problems across the nation, providing information on a range of topics, from the definition of a tree to complex forest-carbon interactions.
The website accomplishes this using various formats that are continually updated, including a Frequently Asked Questions section, discussions written by specialists, an Ask the Experts link, and news articles.
"Overall, it is designed to be a website that will be used by anyone anywhere in the country, the one-stop shopping for Extension information nationwide," said Tom DeGomez, an area agent and regional specialist with the UA's Cooperative Extension.
The project was funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. It is part of the larger eXtension Initiative, a project to create an Internet-based educational network that provides round-the-clock access to unbiased, peer-reviewed science from land-grant universities, such as the UA, and their partners nationwide. Climate, Forests and Woodlands is just one topic within the eXtension Initiative.
The section is organized into four general topics: forest ecosystems, climate change, climate-forest interactions and caring for forests. Discussions within each area contain hot links and links to related articles so users can browse the site without having to return to the homepage.
Users also can ask questions using the Ask an Expert link. Behind the scenes, a so-called question wrangler receives the question and decides who in the group's pool of 50 experts could best answer it. The selected expert contacts the user directly online and can decide to add the question to the Frequently Asked Questions list.
The site is designed for a wide audience; users likely will range from natural resource managers who need information on managing a forest amid rising temperatures to members of the general public who are concerned about how climate change could affect forests and recreation in their region, DeGomez said.
The website was announced May 17 during the National Conference on Extension, Forests and Climate Change held in Flagstaff. A number of UA researchers served on the committee that organized the conference.
Other Arizona Cooperative Extension agents and researchers involved in managing the website are Christopher Jones, Michael Crimmins and Sabrina Kleinman. Gregg Garfin, an assistant specialist and assistant professor in the UA's School of Natural Resources; Melanie Lenart, an environmental scientist, instructor, and writer at the UA; and Peter Kolb, Montana State University extension forestry specialist, also work on the team.
They plan on adding more depth to the existing 250 webpages and broadening the content to include more on other regions of the country other than the West, DeGomez said, adding he sees this as a 10 to 20 year project because it is designed to be so comprehensive.
"This website is really the only place I've found that has this much information for the general public and the average forest manager," he said. "It should be a very reliable source of information on forests and climate."
Such a resource will become more important if climate change continues to play out the way climate models suggest, DeGomez said.
"It will become ever more important as we start to see some species of trees drop out of different ecotypes and managers start wondering what to plant next," he said. "And so we have information on the site that can offer insight into why that's happening and what the outlook is."