Forecasting Sagebrush Ecosystem Components and Greater Sage-grouse Habitat for 2050: Learning from Past Climate Patterns and Landsat Imagery to Predict the Future
Ecological Indicators (August 2015, v55, p131–145; doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2015.03.002) / by Collin G. Homer, et al.
Sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) ecosystems constitute the largest single North American shrub ecosystem and provide vital ecological, hydrological, biological, agricultural, and recreational ecosystem services. Disturbances have altered and reduced this ecosystem historically, but climate change may ultimately represent the greatest future risk. Improved ways to quantify, monitor, and predict climate-driven gradual change in this ecosystem is vital to its future management. We examined the annual change of Daymet precipitation (daily gridded climate data) and five remote sensing ecosystem sagebrush vegetation and soil components (bare ground, herbaceous, litter, sagebrush, and shrub) from 1984 to 2011 in southwestern Wyoming. Bare ground displayed an increasing trend in abundance over time, and herbaceous, litter, shrub, and sagebrush showed a decreasing trend. Total precipitation amounts show a downward trend during the same period. We established statistically significant correlations between each sagebrush component and historical precipitation records using a simple least squares linear regression. Using the historical relationship between sagebrush component abundance and precipitation in a linear model, we forecasted the abundance of the sagebrush components in 2050 using Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) precipitation scenarios A1B and A2. Bare ground was the only component that increased under both future scenarios, with a net increase of 48.98 km2 (1.1%) across the study area under the A1B scenario and 41.15 km2 (0.9%) under the A2 scenario. The remaining components decreased under both future scenarios: litter had the highest net reductions with 49.82 km2 (4.1%) under A1B and 50.8 km2 (4.2%) under A2, and herbaceous had the smallest net reductions with 39.95 km2 (3.8%) under A1B and 40.59 km2 (3.3%) under A2. We applied the 2050 forecast sagebrush component values to contemporary (circa 2006) greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) habitat models to evaluate the effects of potential climate-induced habitat change. Under the 2050 IPCC A1B scenario, 11.6% of currently identified nesting habitat was lost, and 0.002% of new potential habitat was gained, with 4% of summer habitat lost and 0.039% gained. Our results demonstrate the successful ability of remote sensing based sagebrush components, when coupled with precipitation, to forecast future component response using IPCC precipitation scenarios. Our approach also enables future quantification of greater sage-grouse habitat under different precipitation scenarios, and provides additional capability to identify regional precipitation influence on sagebrush component response.