Climate Change Vulnerability in Sagebrush - A Collection of Resources

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Sagebrush steppe – Climate change vulnerability assessment: A synthesis

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It is likely that increasing temperatures will stress native sagebrush steppe species in the lowest, hottest basins more than in cooler and wetter upland habitats. Second, the effect of climate change on cheatgrass and fire is critical but uncertain. Regional warming will increase the frequency of hot, dry conditions that promote fire, but droughts could dampen the fire cycle by limiting the production of fine fuels. Third, the adaptive capacity of sagebrush is unknown and research on the potential for sagebrush to adapt to climate change should be a high priority.

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Response of common plants to annual climate variation in sagebrush communities

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Big sagebrush cover decreased significantly in response to spring temperatures. On the other hand, cheatgrass cover and Sandberg’s bluegrass cover increased mostly in wetter years. Three other species analyzed, three-tip sagebrush, needle-and-thread grass and bluebunch wheatgrass, showed very weak responses to annual climate. This analysis shows that species commonly found together may differ in how they respond to annual climate variation. The weak response to annual climate variation we observed is in contrast to the strong sensitivity to climate predicted by species distribution models. Our analysis suggests that species’ responses to climate may require long-term changes in climate or may be driven by other indirect effects of climate, such as fire frequency.

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Carbon cycling in sagebrush steppe under climate change

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The primary goal of this project was to assess the effect of climate change on carbon cycling in mature sagebrush ecosystems. We used initial soil characteristics and carbon values for three location and modeled future climate at those locations for four different climate scenarios. We found that mature sagebrush ecosystems continued to act as carbon sinks into the future under all different climate change scenarios. The magnitude of carbon storage differed depending on initial conditions and soil characteristics at each site. Climate change may affect the potential for sequestration by increasing carbon loss through respiration, but we found that increased losses were offset by increased gains through greater primary production.

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Forecasts of sagebrush distribution across western land management agencies: Who owns the sagebrush?

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Species distribution models were used to predict how sagebrush distribution could change in response to climate change across land management agencies in the West. Models predict that sagebrush habitats will shift northward and upward in elevation and decrease greatly in extent. Mountainous higher elevation areas were predicted to maintain more sagebrush. U.S. Forest Service lands were predicted to lose proportionally less sagebrush area than non-federal land or the BLM. Analysis suggests that some agencies such as the BLM with the most experience managing sagebrush will lose much of this habitat, while other agencies such as the USFS may have new sagebrush habitats to manage.

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Effects of climate change on sagebrush regeneration at the leading and trailing edge of its distribution

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In the future, areas where sagebrush will expand, the leading edge, are predicted to be on the northern edge of its current range—predominately northeast Montana. Conversely, areas where the current sagebrush distribution is predicted to contract, the trailing edge, reside at the southern edge of the current distribution, including the Great Basin. Both of these projected shifts are most likely in response to predicted increased minimum temperature and changes in precipitation amount and seasonality. Climate and hydrological factors have the potential to strongly affect sagebrush regeneration because sagebrush does not reproduce asexually and depends solely on germination rates and seedling survival. By exploring these relationships using an ecohydrologic simulation model, we found that sagebrush germination is not expected to be limiting at either the leading or trailing edge. However, seedling survival was expected to decrease at the trailing edge while increasing at the leading edge.

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Paleorecords of sage steppe communities

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Paleovegetation studies show that even prior to anthropogenic influence, sage steppe communities were dynamic, and in some cases, susceptible to replacement by other vegetation communities (including forests) under changing climatic conditions.

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Climate change vulnerability assessment in sagebrush steppe: An introduction

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Public land management agencies are under increasing pressure to consider climate change impacts in their land-use planning process. As a first step, many agencies are conducting vulnerability assessments to identify the components of an ecosystem, or conservation targets, most at-risk from climate change. Vulnerability assessment is the first step towards a climate change adaptation plan.

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