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Science You Can Use Bulletin: Upwardly mobile in the western U.S. desert: Blackbrush shrublands respond to a changing climate

Posted date: March 04, 2015
Publication Year: 
2013
Publication Series: 
Science Bulletins and Newsletters
Source: Science You Can Use Bulletin, Issue 3. Fort Collins, CO: Rocky Mountain Research Station. 9 p.

Abstract

Blackbrush (Colegyne ramosissima) is a desert shrubland species that is currently dominant on over three million acres of the transition zone between the cold desert of the Great Basin and the warm desert of the southwestern United States. Western landscapes are projected to experience unprecedented changes as the climate warms, and researchers at the Rocky Mountain Research Station have been studying the response of this species to assess whether it can move upward in elevation and latitude. Blackbrush was found to have two distinct populations (in the warmer Mojave Desert and the cooler Colorado Plateau), which should give the species greater flexibility in responding to climate change and managers the opportunity to work with locally adapted seeds and plants. There are many barriers to successful dispersal, germination, and establishment of blackbrush under current climate conditions, and any of these may limit the potential of the species to make relatively rapid geographic shifts. Researchers have documented poor seedling survival over the past decade in the warmer Mojave ecoregion, but moving into wetter and cooler areas may not be possible for blackbrush based on current land use and the speed with which the species would have to shift its range. Scientists and managers will need to work together to foster the survival of this important species by identifying priority areas for conservation/restoration, identifying climate-adapted seed sources, and possibly assisting with its long-term migration.

Citation

Miller, Sue; Meyer, Susan; Richardson, Bryce; Pendleton, Rosemary; Pendleton, Burton; Kitchen, Stanley. 2013. Upwardly mobile in the western U.S. desert: Blackbrush shrublands respond to a changing climate. Science You Can Use Bulletin, Issue 3. Fort Collins, CO: Rocky Mountain Research Station. 9 p.