Climate Impacts on Semi-Arid Land Wetlands and Birds
Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) foraging in Summer Lake wetlands.
We are developing methods to effectively assess landscape-level impacts of climate change on wetlands and wetland-dependent species in semi-arid areas of North America’s Great Basin. The terrestrial and aquatic animals that depend on Great Basin wetlands are likely to experience shifts in range, phenology, and population structure, including loss of landscape-level connections among necessary fresh (nesting) and alkali (feeding) water habitats required for different life stages. Using remote sensing and on-the-ground research (weather, water quality, hydrology), we are assessing the relationship between climate, water quality, and water volume. We are also measuring the genetic connectivity of the aquatic invertebrates that serve as key prey species to the millions of migratory waterbirds that depend on these wetlands. Thus, allowing us to understand how different animals are genetically connected across the landscape to predict where these prey items may persist under future climate regimes. The end result is that we will be able to model how wetland habitat quality and species connectivity will change in the coming decades. This approach can be used around the world to help researchers, managers, and policy makers understand population- and community-level climate impacts for timely conservation planning and adaptive management.
Why is this research important?
Wetlands are inherently vulnerable to shifts in climate, and the species that depend on them are also likely to experience significant shifts. We aim to understand how climate change will alter the inter-related factors of hydrology and species connectivity of wetlands. This project addresses the priority theme Impacts of Climate and Land-Use Change on Terrestrial and Marine Systems.