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Research Highlights

Individual Highlight

Science-based Guidelines for Restoration and Conservation of Sagebrush Ecosystems

Photo of The image depicts winter mortality of big sagebrush not adapted to colder areas of the species distribution. USDA Forest ServiceThe image depicts winter mortality of big sagebrush not adapted to colder areas of the species distribution. USDA Forest ServiceSnapshot : Helping to make prudent, research-based decisions to improve shrublands in the Interior West.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Richardson, Bryce A.  
Research Location : Western States (private and public lands): CA, OR, WA, ID, NV, AZ, NM, MT, UT, CO, WY, ND, SD.
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2015
Highlight ID : 774


Sagebrush communities are the cornerstones of arid ecosystems in the West, mitigating soil erosion, fostering plant and animal biodiversity, storing carbon, and providing cover and forage for wildlife, such as the greater sage-grouse. These ecosystems are being compromised by increased fire frequency and climate change, coupled with encroachment of invasive plants; subsequently, post-fire restoration has become a fundamental component for maintaining ecosystem function and resiliency in these communities.

Forest Service research focuses on ecological genetics of big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), which is under threat principally from wildfire and exotic weed encroachment. Conserving and restoring big sagebrush is critical for the recovery of sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) and other sagebrush-dependent wildlife species. The study’s goal is to provide management tools to promote successful restoration by: predicting the geographic areas where contemporary and future climates are suitable for this species, developing empirical seed transfer zones, and developing subspecies diagnostic tests to improve seed purity. The key findings are:

Climate change is projected to have a large impact on sagebrush ecosystems; About one-third of the climatic niche of Wyoming sagebrush may be lost by 2050;

Populations of big sagebrush are adapted to climate, specifically cold temperatures; Movement of seed should be restricted to prevent maladaptation; Seed weight can be used to differentiate co-occurring subspecies of big sagebrush; And, weighing can be used as a seed certification step for evaluating subspecies composition of seed intended for restoration.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Francis F Kilkenny, RMRS Research Geneticist
  • Nancy L Shaw, Emeritus RMRS Research Botanist
  • Joshua A Udall, Lindsay Chaney, Department of Plant and Wildlife Sciences, Brigham Young University
  • Matthew J Germino, US Geological Survey, FRESC