How Will Climate Change Alter the Abundance of Big Sagebrush?

    How Will Climate Change Alter the Abundance of Big Sagebrush?

     

     

    Peter Adler7, Professor, Department of Wildland Resources and the Ecology Center, Utah State University, Logan, Utah. peter.adler@usu.edu
    Co-authors: Katherine M Renwick(1), Andrew R. Kleinhesselink(2), Daniel R. Schlaepfer(3), Caroline A. Curtis(4), Bethany A. Bradley(5), Cameron L. Aldridge(6), and Benjamin Poulter(1)
    (1)Ecology, Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana, (2)Department of Wildland Resources, Utah State University, Logan, Utah, (3)Section of Conservation Biology, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland, (4)Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, University of Massachusetts, (5)Environmental Conservation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts, (6)Fort Collins Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey, Fort Collins, Colorado, (7)Department of Wildland Resources and the Ecology Center, Utah State University, Logan, Utah.

    Climate change is a primary threat to sagebrush obligate wildlife, but predicting climate change impacts on sagebrush habitat remains a challenge. We rely on models, but every model suffers from problematic assumptions, undermining confidence in predictions. However, by comparing predictions from different modeling approaches, we may be able to increase our confidence in model projections. We compared models based on four very different kinds of information, from spatial and temporal correlations between climate and sagebrush cover to the dependence of sagebrush physiology on moisture and temperature. Despite considerable variation in the predictions of these four models, consistent trends emerged. Warming appears likely to have a positive effect on sagebrush performance in cold locations but a negative effect in warm locations. In addition, changes in temperature will have a greater impact on sagebrush than changes in precipitation. This information may help managers prioritize areas for conservation.

    I am a plant ecologist who has been working in the sagebrush steppe for almost twenty years. My current research focuses on theoretical questions about the maintenance of species diversity and more applied questions about the impact of climate change on plant populations and communities.