Climate Adaptation Science Centers

Will the Antelope Still Roam? Pronghorn at Risk in the Southwest

Admired by Lewis and Clark for their speed and endurance, the pronghorn can power across prairies and deserts at 60 mph. The only antelope-like species on the continent, the pronghorn is also economically important. Pronghorn hunting contributes over $9 million annually to New Mexico’s economy alone. Yet in the arid Southwest, pronghorn are in decline – and drought may be partially to blame.

What:

While pronghorns remain numerous in parts of their range, such as Wyoming and northern Colorado, they are declining in parts of the Southwest. Average temperatures in the region have increased 1.6°C since 1901 and drought conditions have reduced the availability of vegetation for pronghorn and other wildlife.

To uncover what the future might hold for southwestern pronghorn, researchers looked at whether changes in temperature and precipitation were linked to population declines. Researchers then used models projecting future climate conditions for the Southwest to estimate how the region’s pronghorns would fare in the future.

Findings:

Researchers found that 50% of the pronghorn populations they examined could disappear by 2090, as the Southwest becomes hotter and drier.

While temperature was found to influence pronghorn population growth, precipitation was found to be particularly important for maintaining populations. This is likely due to the important role that precipitation plays in determining the availability and quality of vegetation. Adequate precipitation is particularly important for pronghorn in the summer, when females are producing milk for their young and require more energy – and therefore more nutritious vegetation.

Significance:

Changing conditions in the Southwest are making the region increasingly inhospitable to pronghorn. Information on how changes in temperature and precipitation will impact pronghorns can be used to help steer effective pronghorn conservation and management in the region. For example, these results can guide conservation investments to focus on locations where habitat conditions are more likely to remain suitable for pronghorn into the future – such as areas that aren’t expected to see big decreases in precipitation.

Who:

Project Lead: National Climate Adaptation Science Center
Partners: USGS New Mexico Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit | USFWS, Southwest Region | New Mexico State University 
Stakeholders: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources | Arizona Game & Fish Department | New Mexico Department of Game & Fish | Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

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