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A multi-scale resilience-based framework for restoring and conserving Great Basin wet meadows and riparian ecosystems

Status: 
Action
Dates: 
September, 2016 to December, 2018

A meadow in Kingston Canyon exhibiting stream incision. Photo by Jeanne C. Chambers.
A meadow in Kingston Canyon exhibiting stream incision. Photo by Jeanne C. Chambers.
The framework for restoring and conserving Great Basin wet meadows and riparian ecosystems builds upon long-term work by the research team on resilience of these ecosystems to stress and disturbance. Resilience of wet meadow and riparian ecosystems is defined as the capacity to regain fundamental structure, processes, and functioning when stressors and disturbances alter geomorphic and hydrologic regimes and vegetation communities. Research on riparian and wet meadow ecosystems in the central Great Basin shows that a multi-scale and spatially-explicit approach is needed for resilience-based management (Chambers and Miller 2004, 2011). At watershed scales, sensitivity of individual watersheds to stressors and disturbances determines the resilience of riparian and meadow ecosystems and can be assessed based on geologic and geomorphic variables using a geospatial platform (Miller et al. 2011, Engelhardt et al. 2012). Similarly, hydrologic functioning of watersheds can be assessed based on geologic, geomorphic, and climate variables (Niswonger et al. 2011). Riparian and meadow ecosystem types are related to watershed sensitivity and hydrologic function, and predictive geospatial models can provide watershed-scale assessments. At valley segment to stream reach scales, resilience to disturbance is a function of watershed sensitivity coupled with geomorphic, hydrologic, and vegetation characteristics of the valley segment and stream reach (Chambers et al. 2004) and assessments can be developed that integrate these factors.

Approach

A drilling crew obtaining sediment cores from a meadow in Kingston Canyon to reconstruct the history of sediment deposition and understand ground-water flow patterns. Photo by Jeanne C. Chambers.
A drilling crew obtaining sediment cores from a meadow in Kingston Canyon to reconstruct the history of sediment deposition and understand ground-water flow patterns. Photo by Jeanne C. Chambers.
Data and understanding of the resilience of watersheds, valley segments, and stream reaches for a large ecoregion (the central Great Basin) are being used to develop the Resilience-based Framework and to expand its applicability by assessing other common watershed types in the central and northern Great Basin.

Project components include:

  1. Assess watershed resilience. Predictive geomorphic and hydrologic process models for Great Basin watersheds are developed. The combined outputs of these models are used to (1) develop a database of geomorphic and hydrologic characteristics for most upland watersheds with third order or greater streams in the central Great Basin and (2) categorize and map these watersheds according to their relative resilience.

  2. Assess meadow ecosystem resilience. An existing classification of meadow ecosystem types is refined and expanded to include watershed, valley segment, and reach-scale geomorphic and hydrologic characteristics. Meadow types are categorized based on their relative resilience, and a database and map of 56 study meadows classified by relative resilience are provided.

  3. Identify focal species and habitats. At-risk wildlife species are identified for inclusion in the framework in collaboration with partners. The relationships among species distributions and/or populations, watershed and meadow ecosystem characteristics, and relative resilience are examined. Species distribution and/or population data are mapped in conjunction with watershed and meadow ecosystem resilience.

  4. Assess key threats. The predominant threats to the watersheds and meadow ecosystems are mapped in relation to their relative resilience and the distributions/populations of the focal species. The potential effects of climate change on individual watersheds are assessed using hydrologic models.

  5. Provide management strategies. Management strategies for watersheds and meadows are provided based on their underlying characteristics, relative resilience, and capacity to support focal species and habitats. A rapid assessment protocol for evaluating riparian and meadow ecosystems is developed.

A watershed in the central Great Basin, Big Creek, that is characterized by sedimentary and met-sedimentary rock, has fan dominated channels, and low to moderate watershed sensitivity to disturbance. Photo by Jeanne C. Chambers.
A watershed in the central Great Basin, Big Creek, that is characterized by sedimentary and met-sedimentary rock, has fan dominated channels, and low to moderate watershed sensitivity to disturbance. Photo by Jeanne C. Chambers.

Publications

Deliverables

Products will include:

  • Databases of watershed and riparian ecosystem characteristics and relative resilience.

  • Maps of project watersheds and meadows characterized by resilience with overlays of species distributions/populations and predominant threats.

  • A General Technical Report.

  • Peer-reviewed publications.

  • A field guide for assessing meadow ecosystem resilience. The work will be presented at regional and national conferences, and directly to managers in the Great Basin. Yearly field tours to the study watersheds and meadows will be held.

Other

Other Publications

  • Chambers, J.C.; Miller, J.R. (eds). 2004. Great Basin Riparian Ecosystems - Ecology, Management and Restoration. Covelo, CA: Island Press. 303 pages.

  • Chambers, J.C.; Miller, J.R.; Germanoski, D.; Weixelman, D.A. 2004. Process based approaches for managing and restoring riparian ecosystems. Pages 196-231 in J. C. Chambers and J. R. Miller (eds). Great Basin Riparian Ecosystems - Ecology, Management and Restoration. Island Press, Covelo, CA.

  • Engelhardt, B.M.; Weisberg. P.J.; Chambers, J.C. 2012. Influences of watershed geomorphology on extent and composition of riparian vegetation. J. Veg. Sci. DOI: 10.1111/j.1654-1103.2011.01328.

  • Germanoski, D.; Miller, J.R. 2004. Basin sensitivity to channel response to natural and anthropogenic disturbance. Pages 88-123. in Chambers, J.C.; Miller, J.R. (eds). Great Basin Riparian Ecosystems - Ecology, Management and Restoration. Island Press, Covelo, CA.

  • Lord, M.L.; Jewett, D.W.; Miller, J. R.; Germanoski, D.; Chambers, J.C. 2011. Hydrologic processes affecting meadow ecosystems. in: Chambers, J.C.; Miller, J.R. (eds). Geomorphology, Hydrology and Ecology of Great Basin Meadow Complexes: Implications for Management and Restoration. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-258 Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 44-66.

  • Miller, J.R.; Lord, M.L.; Germanoski, D. 2011.Meadow sensitivity to natural and anthropogenic disturbance. in: J. C. Chambers and J. R. Miller (eds). Geomorphology, Hydrology and Ecology of Great Basin Meadow Complexes: Implications for Management and Restoration. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-258 Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 44-66.

  • Miller, J.R.; Lord, M.L.; Villaroel, L.F.; Germanoski, D.; Chambers, J.C. 2012. Structure and function of process zones in upland watersheds of Central Nevada and their influence on basin connectivity, dynamics, and wet meadow complexes. Geomorphology 139-140:384-402.

  • Niswonger, R.G.; Panday, S.; Ibaraki, M. 2011.  MODFLOW-NWT, A Newton Formulation for MODFLOW-2005. Groundwater Resources Program. Techniques and Methods 6-A37. 44p. Trowbridge, W.; Chambers, J.C.; Germanoski, D.; Lord, M.L.; Miller, J.R.; Jewett, D.W. 2011. 

  • Classification of meadow ecosystems based on watershed and valley segment/reach characteristics. in: Chambers, J.C.; Miller, J.R. (eds). Geomorphology, Hydrology and Ecology of Great Basin Meadow Complexes: Implications for Management and Restoration. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-258 Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 95-112.



Project Contact: 

Principal Investigators:
Co-Investigators:
Rosemary Carroll - Desert Research Institute
Jerry Miller - Western Carolina University
Peter Weisbert - University of Nevada in Reno
Keirith Snyder - Agricultural Research Service

Collaborators:
Sarah Peterson - Bureau of Land Management
Chad Mellison - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Shawn Espinosa - Nevada Division of Wildlife
John Tull - Great Basin Landscape Conservation Cooperative
Erica Fleishman - University of California Davis and CERRL
Jason Dunham - U.S. Geological Survey
Cheri Howell - Forest Service - Region 4 - National Forest System
John McCann - Forest Service - Region 4 - National Forest System
Dave Weixelman - Forest Service - Region 5 - National Forest System

Research Staff:
Funding Contributors:
Great Basin Landscape Conservation Cooperative
Bureau of Land Management
Nevada Division of Wildlife