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Media Spotlight: Forecasting Changes in Sagebrush Distribution and Abundance under Climate Change: Integration of Spatial, Temporal, and Mechanistic Models

For the last month, the North Central Climate Science Center has been highlighting each of the recently announced projects recommended for funding in 2015 that will guide our revamp work in the years to come. This week, we will look at a project lead by Benjamin Poulter of Montana State University entitled “Forecasting Changes in Sagebrush Distribution and Abundance under Climate Change: Integration of Spatial, Temporal, and Mechanistic Models.

The Western United States is largely covered by sagebrush, a key habitat for species such as the Sage Grouse which is current being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Sage brush comprises the basis for an important ecosystem in the American West, but it is one that is susceptible to fire, invasive species, land use impacts, and climate change. In order for resource managers to effectively plan for the conservation of sage grouse, a thorough understanding of what is happening to this ecosystem is necessary. To date, much research on sage brush environments has relied on species distribution models that do not fully consider the complicated reality of resource management for this impacted vegetation. However, by combining these species distribution models with process-based global vegetation models, historical data, and carbon and water related variables, this research will provide insight into the current and future state of sagebrush beyond a “presence-absence” by accounting for abundance and species interactions.

This project focuses on forecasting the effects of climate change on the distribution and abundance of big sagebrush throughout the intermountain west to inform conservation planning and sage grouse management. By combining current models with historical data and disturbance inputs, researchers hope to offer projections to land managers with a higher level of confidence about future scenarios for this important species. Communicating the results of these models to land managers is a key component of this project, and the team plans to create a schematic that synthesizes confidence in trends for land cover at different elevations and locations.

More information on this and other revamp projects can be found on our website