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Projected change in rangeland fractional component cover across the sagebrush biome under climate change through 2085

January 1, 2021

Climate change over the past century has altered vegetation community composition and species distributions across rangelands in the western United States. The scale and magnitude of climatic influences are unknown. While many studies have projected the effects of climate change using several modeling approaches, none has evaluated the impacts to fractional component cover at a 30-m resolution across the full sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) biome. We used fractional component cover data for rangeland functional groups and weather data from the 1985 to 2018 reference period in conjunction with soils and topography data to develop empirical models describing the spatiotemporal variation in component cover. To investigate the ramifications of future change across the western United States, we extended models based on historical relationships over the reference period to model landscape effects based on future weather conditions from two emission scenarios and three time periods (2020s, 2050s, and 2080s). We tested both generalized additive models (GAMs) and regression tree models, finding that the former led to superior spatial and statistical results. Our results indicate more xeric vegetation across most of the study area, with an increasing dominance of non-sagebrush shrubs, annual herbaceous cover, and bare ground over herbaceous and sagebrush cover in both the representative concentration pathway (RCP) 4.5 and 8.5 scenarios. In general, both scenarios yielded similar results, but RCP 8.5 tended to be more extreme, with greater change relative to the reference period. Results demonstrate that in cool sites some degree of warming to growing season maximum temperature or nongrowing season minimum temperature could be beneficial to sagebrush and shrub growth. However, warming nongrowing season maximum temperature was beneficial to shrub, but not to sagebrush growth. Our results inform rangeland managers of potential future vegetation composition, cover, and species distributions, which could improve prioritization of conservation and restoration efforts.

Publication Year 2021
Title Projected change in rangeland fractional component cover across the sagebrush biome under climate change through 2085
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.3538
Authors Matthew B. Rigge, Hua Shi, Kory Postma
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecosphere
Index ID 70218463
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center