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The hydroclimate niche: A tool for predicting and managing riparian plant community responses to streamflow seasonality

November 3, 2022

Habitat suitability is a consequence of interacting environmental factors. In riparian ecosystems, suitable plant habitat is influenced by interactions between stream hydrology and climate, hereafter referred to as “hydroclimate”. We tested the hypothesis that hydroclimate variables would improve the fit of ecological niche models for a suite of riparian species using occurrence data from the western United States. We focus on the climate conditions (temperature, precipitation and vapor pressure deficit) during the months of lowest and highest streamflow as integrative hydroclimate metrics of resource and stress levels. We found that the inclusion of hydroclimate variables improved model fit for all species in the western USA dataset. We then tested the utility of the improved habitat suitability models by projecting them onto a regulated segment of the Colorado River to assess potential impacts of streamflow seasonality on vegetation metrics of management concern. Species frequency derived from independent survey data in the Colorado River segment was significantly higher for species with predicted suitable habitat than for species without predicted suitable habitat. Under different simulated hydrographs for the Colorado River, overall species richness was predicted to be greatest with peak streamflows during summer, and native-to-non-native species ratios were predicted to be greatest with lowest streamflows in winter. Summer high flows were particularly associated with higher predicted habitat suitability for species that have increased in cover over recent decades (e.g., Pluchea sericea, Baccharis species). We conclude that hydroclimate covariates can be useful tools for predicting how riparian vegetation communities respond to changes in the seasonal timing of low and high streamflows.

Publication Year 2023
Title The hydroclimate niche: A tool for predicting and managing riparian plant community responses to streamflow seasonality
DOI 10.1002/rra.4067
Authors Bradley J. Butterfield, Emily C. Palmquist, Charles Yackulic
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title River Research and Applications
Index ID 70238998
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center