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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