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The Effects of Drought on Southwestern Pronghorns

Understanding the Impact of Drought on Southwestern Pronghorn Populations


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The antelope-like pronghorn is the fastest land animal in North America and has the longest land migration in the continental U.S—in fact, the species has been dubbed “the true marathoners of the American West”. While pronghorns are numerous in parts of their range, such as Wyoming and northern Colorado, they are endangered in others, such as the Sonoran Desert. In the arid Southwest, pronghorn populations have been declining since the 1980s—and it’s thought that drought is partially to blame. Average temperatures in the Southwest have increased 1.6°C since 1901, and the area affected by drought from 2001-2010 was the second largest observed since 1901. Drought conditions have reduced the availability of vegetation, impacting the [...]

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Principal Investigator :
James W Cain, Grant Harris
Funding Agency :
CMS Group :
Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASC) Program

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“Pronghorn - Credit: Steve Hillebrand, USFWS”
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Many pronghorn populations across the Southwest appear to be declining. In response, managers are applying various techniques in attempts to increase pronghorn numbers often without a clear understanding of the causes of these declines. Some population declines have been associated with drought conditions resulting in reduced forage quality and quantity impacting survival of adults and fawns. Various climate change models predict warmer and drier conditions, which is likely to exacerbate future drought-related population declines, forcing managers to make some difficult decisions regarding the long-term viability of their management practices and the persistence of some pronghorn populations in the Southwest. In collaboration with the USFWS, the research team will undertake a meta-analysis of pronghorn population trends in the Southwest in relation to climatic conditions, specifically drought. The specific objectives are to: 1) determine how widespread the decline in American pronghorn is in the Southwest; 2) identify causal, climatic factors which best explain these declines; 3) forecast the trend and geographical extent of these causal, climatic factors over the next century based on current climate change models for the region, including downscaled climate models in development at the SW CSC; and 4) relate these climatic forecasts to pronghorn population trends over future decades. Qualifying the relationship between climatic conditions and pronghorn population trajectories is central to developing appropriate management actions for pronghorn in the face of climate change. This project will contribute the development of conservation and management plans for American pronghorn populations across the southwestern U.S. Wildlife managers responsible for managing these pronghorn populations will then be more informed and better able to determine where and when particular management strategies can be applied.

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