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Individual Highlight

Research to Guide Restoration in Changing Climates

Photo of Blackbrush plant community in the Arches National Park, Utah. USDA forest ServiceBlackbrush plant community in the Arches National Park, Utah. USDA forest ServiceSnapshot : Understanding how climate affects species and populations of plants are critical for contemporary ecosystem management and future planning.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Richardson, Bryce A.  
Research Location : California, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2015
Highlight ID : 918


This Forest Service research focuses on blackbrush (Coleogyne ramosissima), a widespread shrub that straddles the ecotone, a transitional area between two plant communities, from the Great Basin and Mojave Desert ecosystems.The scientists analyzed vegetative responses, including survival, growth, and carbon isotope ratios in two blackbrush common gardens that included 26 populations from a range-wide collection. Studying these responses in blackbrush led to the discovery that this species possesses considerable adaptive genetic variation across its distribution. An assessment of these plant responses with climate found that minimum temperatures greatly affect growth and survival of certain populations. The ability to map the relationship between climate and vegetative response within the boundaries of the species allowed scientists to project climate-based, adaptive genetic variation for the contemporary climate and for the decade surrounding 2060. This research provides the framework for delineating climate change-responsive seed transfer guidelines needed to inform restoration and management planning. The results suggest that: blackbrush populations are primarily adapted to winter temperatures; the species is predicted to expand into the Great Basin by mid-century; cold-adapted population will be most suited for this projected northward expansion; and, keeping pace with climate change will require the human-mediated dispersal of seed.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Stanley G. Kitchen, Rosemary L. Pendleton, Burton K. Pendleton, Susan E. Meyer: Rocky Mountain Research Station
  • Matthew Germino, US Geological Survey

Program Areas