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Predicting Sky Island Forest Vulnerability to Climate Change: Fine Scale Climate Variability, Drought Tolerance, and Fire Response

Principal Investigator
Dylan Schwilk


Start Date
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The sky island forests of the southwestern United States are one of the most diverse temperate forest ecosystems in the world, providing key habitat for migrating and residential species alike. Black bear, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and wild turkey are just a few of the species found in these isolated mountain ecosystems that rise out of the desert landscape. However, recent droughts have crippled these ecosystems, causing significant tree death. Climate predictions suggest that this region will only face hotter and drier conditions in the future, potentially stressing these ecosystems even further. Simple models predict that vegetation will move to cooler and wetter locations in response to this warming. However, species responses [...]

Child Items (4)


Principal Investigator :
Dylan Schwilk
Co-Investigator :
Scott Holaday
Cooperator/Partner :
Helen Poulos, Anne Stoner
Funding Agency :
South Central CSC
CMS Group :
Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASC) Program

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“Big Bend National Park - Credit: NPS”
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The Sky Island forests of the southwestern United States comprise one of the most diverse temperate forest ecosystems in the world. These mountain ranges are key animal habitats and important stepping stones for migration. Drought has led to significant tree death throughout the southwest and climate predictions are that this region will face a hotter, more arid climate in the future. Simple models of plant response to warming climates predict vegetation moving to cooler and wetter locations (“marching upslope”). However, the mechanisms explaining species-specific responses to changes in temperature and water availability are much more complex. Nighttime lows and daytime high temperatures may show contrasting elevational patterns and water availability does not uniformly increase with elevation. The nonlinearities in local microclimate signal the need to assess the interacting effects of drought and temperature on tree survival. To fill these current gaps in knowledge, project researchers propose to 1) identify the key traits influencing contemporary distributions of forest tree species in western Texas 2) collect micro-climate and soil moisture measurements and conduct fine-scale climate downscaling across three replicated mountain ranges that host important forest resources, and 3) use this information to predict how species might shift under future warmer and drier climates.

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Additional Information


Type Scheme Key
RegistrationUUID NCCWSC 9326d51b-5154-4b8c-bc15-8f01b319f94c

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