ECOLOGICAL DROUGHT FORECAST TOOL FOR DRYLANDS

Release Date:

NEW TOOL AIDS IN LAND TREATMENT PLANNING

A seeding attempt with mixed results, plants did not spread outside the drilled areas.

It has been estimated that over 90% of seeding attempts globally fail, and the new drought tool can help improve that statistic. In this photo, seeds were drilled as part of oil & gas pad reclamation. The drilling was considered partially successful, as the plants didn't colonize the pad after germination.

Weather impacts the effectiveness of land treatments. This is especially true in drylands of the Western U.S. where plant survival is heavily influenced by the combination of temperature and soil moisture. When planning land treatments such as seeding, outplanting, and using herbicide, knowing weather and soil moisture forecasts can improve efficacy of treatments and avoid drought-driven restoration failures. The Drought Forecast Tool is a quick, easy-to-use application for supporting decision making around land treatment planning and adaptive management.

HOW THE TOOL WORKS

With a project location, the tool provides historic information and forecasts for temperature, precipitation, and soil moisture. To do this, the tool integrates soils data from National Soil Conservation Service (NRCS), seasonal weather forecasts from the National Weather Service, an ecosystem water balance model, and statistical models of plant establishment developed through ecological research. The outputs are forecasts and historical conditions for a specific site selected by the user.

WHAT IT PROVIDES FOR LAND TREATMENT PLANNING

SOIL MOISTURE. Examine soil moisture at various soil depths for the past 6 months and the next 12 months. Compare with long-term average conditions and variability at your site. Soil moisture is a critical variable for seed establishment in drylands. Different types of plants at various life stages utilize moisture at different depths. Anticipating how soil moisture may differ from normal conditions at your site may help you evaluate the likely success of your planned land treatments. For example, trees and shrubs tend to respond to deeper soil moisture than many grasses and forbs. Seedlings and young plants need moisture at shallower depths while their roots develop.

TEMPERATURE & PRECIPITATION. Like soil moisture, examine current conditions and forecasts of air temperature and precipitation compared to the past. Information from the past gives a metric for comparing how vegetation or treatments might respond to forecasted weather, if you know how these responded in the past. For planning, knowing how treatment effectiveness is coupled with temperature and precipitation over time can improve outcomes. If you do not know how treatments are affected by these variables, you can use the tool to make inferences and learn.

SAGEBRUSH SEEDING SUCCESS & SEEDLING SURVIVAL. Because we know what a sagebrush seed and seedling needs for survival, we provide an estimate of germination success and seedling survival for up to two years post-seeding. These estimates may be particularly useful for considering the location and timing of seeding treatments in restoration projects. USGS researchers are currently working to develop this type of information for other highpriority restoration species and seed sources.

REFERENCES & METHODS. Learn more about how the tool was created and the science behind it, including details about how seasonal weather forecasts are utilized, and how ecological responses like seed establishment are estimated from forecasted soil moisture, temperature and precipitation.

LOCATE AND USE THE TOOL

1. FIND THE WEBSITE. Navigate to the USGS Land Treatment Exploration Tool website: https://chsapps.usgs.gov/apps/land-treatment-exploration-tool/map

2. GO TO THE TOOL. Find the “Drought Forecast” tab near the top of the page.

3. WHERE IS YOUR PROJECT? Using the map, find your project location, click the “Point” button, and then click your project area on the map. Read the ‘Instructions for using the tool’ paragraph for more details.

4. USE PROVIDED SOILS DATA OR INPUT YOUR OWN. Decide if you want to use existing soils information from NRCS gridded soil datasets or click the ‘specify soils’ button if you want to enter information about composition of soils at your project site.

5. ACTIVATE THE TOOL. Click on the “Calculate” button. This process can take up to 5 minutes.

6. ANALYZE RESULTS: Anticipate future conditions and consider impacts for seeding. Examine forecasts for precipitation, temperature, and soil moisture, and contrast forecasts to long-term historical conditions at your site to recognize if conditions may be unusual and thus may affect your planned project. Find out probability of seeding success (only for sagebrush).

7. LIMITATIONS. Predictions from the tool will not be perfect forecasts of soil moisture or seed establishment. Errors in the forecast can emerge from uncertainty in weather forecasts used by the tool, as well as; uncertainty in both soil moisture and ecological responses, which we do not yet attempt to quantify. Follow links on the tool website for a comprehensive description of the tool’s approach.

NEXT STEPS

This ecological drought forecasting tool currently generates forecasts for a single point, and we hope to expand the functionality to generate monthly gridded forecasts each month across drylands of the western U.S. Such forecasts would strengthen landscape- and regional-scale planning and prioritization to maximize treatment effectiveness. In addition, we plan to add forecasts of plant establishment for additional species, focusing on species commonly utilized in dryland restoration efforts.

TALK TO US!

Long-term viability of the tool will be determined in part by the tools value for dryland resource managers and stakeholders. Consequently, your feedback matters. To provide comments, suggestions, or express support for the tool, please reach out to one of the contacts listed on this page.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This tool was developed with seed funding from the USGS Community for Data Integration and the USGS Rocky Mountain Region, and support from the Colorado Plateau Native Plant Program and the USGS Southwest Biological Science Center.

An infographic summarizing activities of the RAMPS program.

 

 

 

This study is a part of the USGS Southwest Biological Science Center’s Restoration Assessment & Monitoring Program for the Southwest (RAMPS). RAMPS is an inter-disciplinary network of scientists, land managers & practitioners that strengthens restoration strategies & outcomes across the southwestern U.S.

For more dryland restoration resources, visit www.usgs.gov/ramps