Forecasting dryland vulnerability for the Department of Defense

A multi-disciplinary team from Arizona State University, U.S. Geological Survey, New Mexico State University, University of Arizona and Utah State University will carry out research to inform the management of Department of Defense drylands in the western U.S. The newly-funded proposal will investigate the interactive effects of climate change and disturbance on vegetation communities and ecosystem processes across three large deserts of the western U.S.

Researchers will assess the vulnerability of vegetation and ecosystem processes to drought and disturbance with a set of factorial field experiments aimed at isolating key drivers of change under drought conditions predicted by climate models. They will combine experimental results with existing long-term climate and vegetation data collected in actively-managed and paired-protected areas to quantitatively model and scale vegetation sensitivity to different climate drivers in relation to disturbance history. Importantly, this allows for frameworks of understanding and planning at spatiotemporal scales not possible with on-the-ground or site-specific measurements alone.

Using a synthesis of experimental and remotely-sensed measurements, the team will develop an improved understanding of climate change and disturbance impacts on key processes at the ecosystem scale. Collectively, these experimental and numerical approaches will provide tools and predictive frameworks regarding which types of habitat are most vulnerable to climate and land-use change, how drivers of change vary across spatiotemporal scales and locations across the landscape where changes will be severe.

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