Covering 120 million acres across 14 western states and 3 Canadian provinces, sagebrush provides critical habitat for species such as pronghorn, mule deer, and sage-grouse – a species of conservation concern. The future of these and other species is closely tied to the future of sagebrush. Yet this important ecosystem has already been affected by fire, invasive species, land use conversion, and now, climate change.
In the western U.S., temperatures are rising and precipitation patterns are changing. However, there is currently a limited ability to anticipate the impacts of climate change on sagebrush. Current methods suffer from a range of weakness that limits the reliability of results. In fact, the current uncertainty about future changes in sagebrush has been identified as a critical constraint on climate change adaptation planning in the West. To address this need, researchers forecasted the effects of climate change on the distribution and abundance of sagebrush, and integrated several modeling approaches that take into account historical data, disturbances such as fire, and changes in temperature and precipitation. This integrated method is expected to produce more accurate estimates of future sagebrush distribution and abundance.
The results of this research will be effectively communicated to land managers so that they can inform conservation planning, and sage-grouse management in particular, across the Intermountain West. Improved sagebrush forecasting will increase the capacity of land managers to prioritize future investments in sagebrush conservation and management by identifying areas where sagebrush are most and least vulnerable to climate change.