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Ecological Drought: Assessing Vulnerability and Developing Solutions for People and Nature

Landscape Sensitivity to Ecological Drought: The Knowns, Needs, and Solutions for the Real World


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As global temperatures continue to rise, the frequency and severity of droughts in North America are expected to increase, leading to a wide range of social and ecological impacts. Identifying these impacts and the consequences for ecosystems and human communities are essential for effective drought management. Equally important is to improve the capacity of nature and people to prepare for and cope with drought by identifying management strategies that benefit both. An interdisciplinary working group within the Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP) was established by the U.S. Geological Survey, The Wildlife Conservation Society, and The Nature Conservancy to synthesize our current understanding of the ecological impacts [...]

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“Drought- and bark-beetle mortality in whitebark pine forests (C.Millar, USFS)”
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We propose to convene a SNAP working group to synthesize the current understanding of multi-year drought impacts, exacerbated by anthropogenic climate change, to ecosystems, biota, and ecological services with close association to human health or well-being. The SNAP work group will be engaged in four meetings that will contribute to an overall synthesis of ecological drought risks, on-the-ground strategies for increasing the ability of natural and human systems to thrive in the face of climate change-driven drought, and a tangible set of research priorities to support future decisions about drought management. The first meeting (“The Knowns”) will codify our current understanding of “ecological drought” (i.e., prolonged and widespread deficits in biologically-available water and changes in hydrological flow regimes that impose multiple stresses in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems), and highlight geographies and ecosystems that are sensitive or resistant to climate change-induced drought. The second meeting (“The Needs”) will bring together stakeholders (e.g., natural resource managers, state water planners, local watershed groups, conservation organizations) to generate a prioritized set of applied information and decision-support needs for drought management, and propose specific lines of research that maximize inference to both nature and people. The third meeting ("The Solutions") will characterize sets of management options linked to particular ecological drought concerns, and highlight examples of ecosystem-based strategies for coping with drought. The fourth meeting (“The Real World”) will showcase how the products from the first three workshops can be incorporated into on-going climate adaptation and drought preparedness efforts benefiting natural and human systems.

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