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Project ID: 15-1-03-6

Year: 2015

Date Started: 10/01/2015

Ending Date:  08/30/2018

Title: Relations among cheatgrass-driven fire, climate, and sensitive-status birds across the Great Basin

Project Proposal Abstract: Across the Great Basin, the distribution and abundance of cheatgrass and the extent and frequency of fire are increasing. These changes are associated with loss of native vegetation that provides habitat for Greater Sage-Grouse and many other native animals. As the frequency, timing, and amount of precipitation in the Great Basin change in the coming decades, increases in cheatgrass biomass may further increase the likelihood of fire and changes in habitat quality. We have six objectives. First, we will model percent cover of cheatgrass across the Great Basin and project future changes in cheatgrass cover as a function of precipitation. Existing regional models of cheatgrass focus on occurrence; they do not address changes in percent cover as a continuous variable. We will estimate the maximum cover of cheatgrass at 500 m resolution. We then will apply the functional relation between precipitation and cheatgrass cover to new, high-resolution downscaled global climate model simulations. This process will yield estimates of percent cover of cheatgrass to 2050. Second, we will use random forests models to increase the accuracy of models of percent cover of sagebrush and herbaceous vegetation. Spectral differences between woody sagebrush and photosynthetic herbaceous vegetation will enable us to estimate of percent cover of these vegetation types (again as continuous variables). These projections are directly applicable to estimation of habitat quality and occupancy of sensitive-status birds. Third, we will use field data to train and validate models of vegetation cover and to relate cheatgrass cover and biomass. We will supplement existing data from multiple sources with new field estimates of vegetation cover from 400 sites. We will use novel photographic to estimate the vegetation cover in the field. Additionally, we will sample aboveground biomass of cheatgrass and characterize the relation between cover and biomass of cheatgrass. Biomass is more closely related than cover to the fine-fuel loads that are associated with likelihood of intense fire. Fourth, we will model probability of fire across the Great Basin as a function of percent cover of cheatgrass and precipitation. We will model the presence or absence of a burn in each fire year at 500 m resolution on the basis of historic and future growing season precipitation and maximum cheatgrass cover. Fifth, we will project changes in habitat quality and occupancy for sage grouse and other sensitive-status birds given changes in vegetation. It is unknown how vegetation-management actions intended to benefit Greater Sage-Grouse will affect other sensitive-status species of birds. A minimum of 17 species of birds designated as sensitive or as common but in steep decline occur in our study areas. We will use existing models of species-environment relations, newly collected data on occupancy, and scenarios of vegetation management to project future habitat quality and occupancy for multiple species that use edges between sagebrush and woodlands. Sixth, we will test whether ecological thresholds occur in projected future vegetation cover, habitat quality, and occupancy. We define an ecological threshold as a value of a natural or anthropogenic pressure at which an abrupt, nonlinear change in ecosystem state occurs. We will use statistical change-point analyses to assess evidence of thresholds in our time series of ecological variables. These analyses will provide insight into the resilience and reversibility of current and potential future ecosystem states. Our project team includes both researchers and resource managers. To facilitate open communication and transfer of information, we will work in close coordination with the Southwest Climate Science Center and the Great Basin Landscape Conservation Cooperative, Consortium, Fire Science Exchange, and Climate Forum.

Principal Investigator: Erica Fleishman

Agency/Organization: University of California-Davis

Branch or Dept: John Muir Institute of the Environment

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Agreements Contact

Ahmad H. Hakim-Elahi

University of California-Davis

Board of Regents

Budget Contact

Ahmad H. Hakim-Elahi

University of California-Davis

Board of Regents

Co-Principal Investigator

Jennifer K. Balch

University of Colorado-Boulder

Department of Geography

Co-Principal Investigator

Bethany A. Bradley

University of Massachusetts

Department of Environmental Conservation

Co-Principal Investigator

Todd E. Hopkins

FWS-Fish and Wildlife Service

Agassiz NWR

Co-Principal Investigator

Matthias Leu

USGS-Geological Survey

BRD-Snake River Field Station

Co-Principal Investigator

Ralph C. MacNally

University of California-Davis

John Muir Institute of the Environment

Co-Principal Investigator

Mike L. Pellant

BLM-Bureau of Land Management

Idaho State Office

Project Locations

Fire Science Exchange Network

Great Basin






Interior West














Project Deliverables

There is no final report available for this project.
There are no deliverables available for this project.

Supporting Documents

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