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Forecasting Future Changes in Sagebrush Distribution and Abundance

Forecasting Changes in Sagebrush Distribution and Abundance under Climate Change: Integration of Spatial, Temporal, and Mechanistic Models
Principal Investigator
Benjamin Poulter


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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 [...]

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“Sagebrush - Credit: Peter Adler”
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Project Extension

typeTechnical Summary
valueOver the past century, the distribution of sagebrush ecosystems has been affected by fire, invasive species, agriculture, and climate change. Sagebrush ecosystems cover large areas of the western United States and provide habitat for key species currently in consideration for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Here, we propose a working group to develop forecasts of the distribution and abundance of big sagebrush in response to projected climate change to inform conservation planning and sage grouse management in particular across the Intermountain West. The novelty of our work will be a synthesis of modeling approaches based on both empirically-derived spatial and temporal patterns as well as applying mechanistic modeling approaches to estimate sagebrush ecosystem dynamics. Combining species distribution models and process based dynamic global vegetation models will provide new insights into the range of sagebrush beyond ‘presence-absence’ relationships by considering abundance and the role of species interactions and disturbance from fire. Expected products include geospatial datasets for a range of sagebrush ecosystem variables from present time to year 2100, which include abundance, and also carbon and water related variables (i.e., net primary production, biomass, leaf area index), and information on disturbance regimes (fire return interval, fire severity). These data will be distributed following the National Science Foundation (NSF) Data One guidelines. The project partners and collaborators include University researchers and State and Federal Agencies and Extension scientists that are currently part of an NSF-funded collaborative effort led by Dr. Peter Adler since 2013. By providing a new perspective on sagebrush ecosystem dynamics that is a hybrid of empirical and mechanistic modeling scenarios for climate change projections, we expect to increase the capacity for land managers to make informed decisions for mitigating climate impacts and assessing climate vulnerability for this critically important system.
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Additional Information


Type Scheme Key
RegistrationUUID NCCWSC 126dae94-e3c3-4f68-a0e4-a1734bc77d93
StampID NCCWSC NC14-PB0232

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