Understanding Local Resistance and Resilience to Future Habitat Change in the Sagebrush Ecosystem

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The sagebrush ecosystem is home to diverse wildlife, including big-game and Greater sage-grouse. Historic and contemporary land-uses, large wildfires, exotic plant invasion, and woodland expansion all represent threats to this multiple-use landscape. Efforts of federal and state agencies and private landowners across the landscape are focused on restoration and maintenance of conditions that su...

The sagebrush ecosystem is home to diverse wildlife, including big-game and Greater sage-grouse. Historic and contemporary land-uses, large wildfires, exotic plant invasion, and woodland expansion all represent threats to this multiple-use landscape. Efforts of federal and state agencies and private landowners across the landscape are focused on restoration and maintenance of conditions that support wildlife, livestock, energy development, and many other uses. However, this semi-arid landscape presents challenges for management due to highly variable patterns in growing conditions that lead to differences in plant composition, fuel accumulation, and vegetation recovery. Much of this variability is created by soil and climate conditions. Because of their fundamental effects on plant growth, soil and climate patterns can be used to predict plant growth and regeneration. This information can then help managers understand the long-term persistence of ecosystems, resilience after wildfires and habitat treatments, and the potential for invasive weeds such as cheatgrass to spread.

 

This project focuses on better understanding the resistance and resilience of the sagebrush landscape to habitat change. The resistance of an ecosystem refers to how well it can maintain its processes when subjected to stress, such as a drought or wildfire, while the resilience of an ecosystem refers to how well it can recover from a stressor or adapt to changing conditions. To do this, researchers will characterize future variability in the soil environment and the sensitivity of growing conditions to potential future changes in temperature and precipitation. Instead of broadly classified climate regions, researchers will model a continuous surface of grid cells using the soil and climate conditions unique to each location. This enables the development of estimates of soil temperature and moisture across a large landscape that take into account both local and landscape-scale conditions. Researchers will also incorporate scenarios of potential future changes in temperature and precipitation, to assess the implications of these changes for habitat conditions, restoration outcomes, and fuel profiles. A better understanding of the patterns of plant production, resistance of the sagebrush ecosystem to invasion by non-native plants, and resilience of the ecosystem following wildfires can inform habitat management activities, such as restoration and reclamation.