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Forecasting changes in sagebrush distribution and abundance under climate change: integration of spatial, temporal, and mechanistic models

Principal Investigator(s): 
Benjamin Poulter, Montana Institute on Ecosystems and Department of Ecology, Montana State University; benjamin.poulter@montana.edu (Project Contacts: Julie Geyer, Fiscal Manager; jgeyer@montana.edu)
Co-Investigator(s): 
Peter Adler, Utah State University; Cameron Aldridge, USGS; Bethany Bradley, University of Massachusetts. John Bradford, USGS; Caroline Curtis, University of Massachusetts; Andy Kleinhesselink, Utah State University; Jen Pierce, Boise State University; Daniel Schlaepfer, University of Wyoming; Eric Thacker, Utah State University Extension. Mary Manning, US Forest Service; Renee Chi, Utah BLM; Robert Means, Wyoming BLM; Steve Torbit, Fish and Wildlife Service.

The future of sage grouse depends on the future of sagebrush, yet we have limited ability to anticipate impacts of climate change on sagebrush populations. Current efforts to forecast sagebrush habitat typically rely on species distribution models (SDMs), which are prone to a variety of well-known weaknesses. However, by integrating SDMs with complementary research approaches, such as historical data analysis and mechanistic models, we can provide increased confidence in projections of habitat vulnerability to climate change. Our goal is to forecast the effect of climate change on the distribution and abundance of big sagebrush in order to inform conservation planning, and sage grouse management in particular, across the Intermountain West. The novelty of our work is in the integration of model projections based on spatial, temporal, and mechanistic relationships between climate and sagebrush cover. The project culminates in a working group meeting bringing together land managers and researchers for a discussion on how integrated metrics for climate vulnerability can be used to inform management. We are taking advantage of existing USGS infrastructures already in place to efficiently disseminate our final report to management agencies.