You are here

Modeling the future habitat network for pronghorn in the Great Basin

Date: November 17, 2021

Where will pronghorn habitat and connectivity exist in the future?

Identifying and enhancing habitat for large ungulates in the western United States has become an increased priority for many state and federal agencies due to the Department of the Interior’s Secretarial Order 3362.

A pronghorn
A pronghorn. Photo by James Leupold, U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

Pronghorn, which are found across shrublands and grasslands of the west, may be threatened by 1) decreasing habitat due to declining sagebrush vegetation, 2) human development like fences, roads, and other activities that limit access to important forage, and 3) climate change. Given the sensitivity of pronghorn to these threats, estimating current and future habitat suitability and connectivity is important to inform successful long-term management of this species.

We used a variety of data types (GPS collar, aerial surveys, observation locations) to map habitat and connectivity for pronghorn in the Great Basin ecoregion of the United States for the present day and the years 2050 and 2070. To model habitat suitability and connectivity, we combined the pronghorn data with vegetation, topographic, soil, temperature, and precipitation data across the study area. We then projected future habitat models by incorporating projections of vegetation, temperature, and precipitation estimated with two different carbon emissions scenarios, a moderate and a high scenario.

We used the habitat suitability maps to model habitat connectivity across the landscape. We then calculated changes in habitat and connectivity through time and identified areas of the pronghorn habitat network that were resilient to climate and land use change. We also calculated the area of these habitat networks that are protected.

Key Findings

  • We found a 33.4 percent decline in the area of highly suitable pronghorn habitat by 2070, assuming a high carbon emissions scenario. Despite this decline, 70 percent of highly suitable habitat was resilient to future climate and land use change.
  • Future patches of suitable habitat decreased in number and size and increased in distance from one another, highlighting the importance of connectivity for pronghorn in the future.
  • However, we also found that areas of future connectivity decreased by 47–80 percent, indicating that connectivity may be a limiting factor for pronghorn.
  • Approximately 78 percent of the habitat network (habitat and corridors) is under some form of protection while 10 percent is strictly protected. Levels of protection stayed relatively consistent through time.

Maps showing areas of highly suitable habitat and connectivity for pronghorn.
Highly suitable habitat and areas of connectivity for pronghorn assuming long distance movements. Projections for current, 2050, and 2070 are shown with two carbon emissions scenarios. Area of habitat and connectivity and percent losses are provided.

Featured Publications

Zeller, Katherine ; Schroeder, Cody A. ; Wan, Ho Yi ; Collins, Gail ; Denryter, Kristin ; Jakes, Andrew F. ; Cushman, Samuel A. , 2021

Principal Investigators: 
Principal Investigators - External: 
Cody A. Schroeder - Nevada Department of Wildlife
Ho Yi Wan - Humboldt State University
Gail Collins - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Kristin Denryter - California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Andrew F. Jakes - National Wildlife Federation
Research Location: 
Great Basin Ecoregion