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Spatial patterns of meadow sensitivities to interannual climate variability in the Sierra Nevada

June 17, 2019

Conservation of montane meadows is a high priority for land and water managers given their critical role in buffering the effects of climate variability and their vulnerability to increasing temperatures and evaporative demands. Recent advances in cloud computing have provided new opportunities to examine ecological responses to climate variability over the past few decades, and at large spatial scales. In this study we characterized the sensitivities (magnitude and direction of the slope) of meadow vegetation responses to interannual variations in climate. We calculated sensitivity as the regression slope between a 35-year (1985-2016) time series of Landsat-derived vegetation indices characterizing late-season vegetation vigor and water balance variables from the Basin Characterization Model. We identified April 1 snowpack as the climate variable the majority of meadows were most sensitive to. We assessed how vegetation sensitivities to snowpack varied with hydrogeomorphic context (e.g., climate, geology, soils, watershed geometry and land cover) across the Sierra Nevada mountain range using factor analysis to reduce the dimensionality of the hydrogeomorphic data, and multiple linear regression to model sensitivity responses. We found that meadow sensitivities to snowpack varied with long-term average meadow climate, indicators of watershed subsurface water storage capacity, and indicators of meadow vegetation composition. Alpine and sub-alpine meadows with high average annual precipitation, but limited catchment subsurface storage exhibited the largest sensitivities. Our results provide a novel regional perspective on spatial patterns of meadow sensitivities to climate variability and the landscape-scale hydrogeomorphic factors that influence late-season water availability in meadow ecosystems in the Sierra Nevada.

Publication Year 2019
Title Spatial patterns of meadow sensitivities to interannual climate variability in the Sierra Nevada
DOI 10.1002/eco.2128
Authors Christine M. Albano, Meredith L. McClure, Shana E. Gross, Wesley Kitlasten, Christopher Soulard, Charles Morton, Justin Huntington
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecohydrology
Index ID 70203909
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Nevada Water Science Center; Western Geographic Science Center