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Mapping the Risk of Ecological Transformation Across Pinyon Woodlands and the U.S. West

Risk of Ecological Transformation Across the U.S. West and Pinyon Woodlands
Principal Investigator
John Bradford

Dates

Start Date
2018-10-01
End Date
2021-12-31
Release Date
2018

Summary

Pinyon pine woodlands are among the most widespread and iconic vegetation types in the western United States and support recreation, resource extraction, grazing, and cultural enrichment. However, severe drought conditions have recently caused dramatic mortality of pinyon pines, creating concern about the long-term impact of increasing aridity on the viability of pinyon woodlands. Ecological transformations, or regime shifts, are rapid reorganizations of an ecosystem’s species composition, governing processes, and functions. The goal of this project is to investigate ecological transformation across the Western U.S, characterize the environmental drivers of these changes in vegetation, and apply those insights to map contemporary [...]

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PinyonJuniper_Woodlands_NPS.jpg
“Pinyon Woodlands, NPS - Credit”
thumbnail 62.59 KB image/jpeg
Pinyon_JuniperWoodland_ArchesNP_Utah_HollyChandler_3.JPG
“Pinyon Juniper Woodland, Credit: Holly Chandler”
thumbnail 3.94 MB image/jpeg

Purpose

Pinyon pine woodlands are among the most widespread and iconic vegetation types in the western U.S., supporting recreation, resource extraction, grazing, and cultural/spiritual enrichment. However, severe drought conditions have recently caused dramatic mortality of pinyon pines, creating concern about the long-term impact of increasing aridity on the viability of pinyon woodlands. Uncertainty about the potential for future transformations from pinyon woodlands to other vegetation types has been identified as a crucial knowledge gap by several stakeholder workshops around the west, and maps of pinyon transformation risk were identified as a clear need. We propose a research project to characterize the environmental drivers of these broad changes in vegetation across the western US, and then apply those insights to map contemporary pinyon transformation risk. We will integrate insights from divergent approaches to understand pinyon transformation, including leveraging paleorecords of vegetation and climate over the past ~21,000 years to identify the conditions that promote vegetation transformation over broad areas. We will compliment these general drivers with a detailed examination of drought conditions that promote pinyon mortality and regeneration failure (both are needed for long-term transformation). Across the range of pinyon woodlands, we will map the current and future potential for observing both the conditions from the paleorecord and the conditions associated with mortality and regeneration failure, providing a comprehensive, multifaceted perspective on pinyon transformation risk. Our primary product will be maps depicting risk of existing pinyon systems transforming to other vegetation types. These maps will help resource managers understand the potential for important change in their pinyon resources, helping them maximize the long-term effectiveness of their conservation and restoration investments. We will ensure that these results are integrated into management decisions by conducting a participatory workshop, providing spatial data layers online, and publishing our findings in scientific literature.

Project Extension

parts
typeTechnical Summary
valueWe propose to test the environmental drivers of past ecological transformations across the US West with an array of paleorecords and anticipate future transformation in pinyon woodlands in particular with a map of transformation risk that integrates the probability of transformation from a paleoperspective with the probability of pinyon mortality and regeneration failure in the future. Ecological transformations, or regime shifts, are rapid reorganizations of an ecosystem’s species composition, governing processes, and functions. Regime shifts are increasingly expected in vegetation because growing prevalence of disturbances like drought and wildfire are increasing mortality rates globally, and warming trends are leading to unsuitable climates for regeneration. The US West is vulnerable to transformation with novel drought conditions and increasing aridity, and pinyon woodlands in particular have experienced widespread drought-induced mortality recently that may represent the early stages of important transformations. However, many conservation plans and management actions focus on promoting resilience or resistance, and utilize untested hypotheses about landscape, biologic, and climatic features that make ecosystems resilient to climate change. A map of transformation risk is needed to improve decision-making, increase efficiency of conservation resources, and highlight opportunities for cross-scale collaboration. This project addresses three objectives to understand transformation risk. First, we will identify environmental drivers of ecological transformations over the past ~21,000 years across the US West. Second, we will evaluate contemporary transformation risk by (1) projecting the paleomodel of transformation drivers to the current landscape, (2) assessing potential for pinyon pine mortality and regeneration failure throughout its range under current and future climates, and (3) integrating these two complementary perspectives to map transformation risk across pinyon woodlands. As our final objective, we will integrate transformation with agency planning by co-hosting a participatory symposium where these results are integrated with a synthesis of the efficacy of resilience and resistance strategies (PJFIRE proposal) for pinyon woodland managers, especially around Zion National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, and Bandelier National Monument to facilitate cross-jurisdictional climate adaptation plans. These products will also be disseminated to the federal Facilitating Ecological Transformation working group. Personnel will include John Bradford (USGS), Shelley Crausbay, Sasha Stortz, and Clare Aslan (CSP), and Karin Decker (CNHP).
projectStatusIn Progress

Budget Extension

annualBudgets
year2018
totalFunds197468.09
parts
typeAward Type
valueCooperative Agreement
typeAward Number
valueG18AC00377
totalFunds197468.09

Pinyon Juniper Woodland, Credit: Holly Chandler
Pinyon Juniper Woodland, Credit: Holly Chandler

Map

Spatial Services

ScienceBase WMS

Communities

  • National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers
  • North Central CASC

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Provenance

Additional Information

Identifiers

Type Scheme Key
RegistrationUUID NCCWSC a2cbcc7d-4f39-473b-b822-86906df1e9da
StampID NCCWSC NC18-BJ1377

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