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Using climate projections to assess ecosystem vulnerability at scales relevant to managers

Posted date: September 14, 2019
Publication Year: 
Authors: Triepke, F. Jack; Muldavin, Esteban H.; Wahlberg, Maximillian M.
Publication Series: 
Scientific Journal (JRNL)
Source: Ecosphere. 10(9): e02854.


Land managers require information about the ongoing and potential effects of future climate to coordinate responses for ecosystems, species, and human communities at scales that are operationally meaningful. Our study focused on the vulnerability for all upland ecosystem types of Arizona and New Mexico in the southwestern United States. Local vulnerability across the two-state area was represented by the level of departure for late 21st-century climate from the characteristic pre-1990 climate envelope of the ecosystem type at each given location, resulting in a probability surface of climate impacts for the two-state area and an uncertainty assessment based on agreement in results among multiple global climate models. Though the results varied from one ecosystem type to the next, the majority of lands were forecast as high vulnerability and low uncertainty, reflecting significant agreement among climate model projections for the southwestern United States. We then tested our results in relation to ongoing ecological processes that have both regional and global change implications and discovered significant relationships with wildfire severity, upward tree species recruitment, and the encroachment of scrub into semidesert grassland. The testing helped determine the efficacy of the vulnerability surface, as a product of relatively high spatial and thematic resolution, in supporting local planning and management decisions. Most important, this study links climate and changes in vegetation by ecosystem processes that are already ongoing. The results affirm the value of climate model downscaling and show that this portable approach to correlative modeling has value in determining the location and magnitude of potential climate-related impacts.


Triepke, F. Jack; Muldavin, Esteban H.; Wahlberg, Maximillian M. 2019. Using climate projections to assess ecosystem vulnerability at scales relevant to managers. Ecosphere. 10(9): e02854.