Forecasting Future Sage Grouse Habitat
Photo of sage grouse lek.

Greater sage grouse require sagebrush habitats with different characterstics for wintering, breeding, nesting, and rearing their young.

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Looking to the Future

Wildlife management is enhanced when managers have the ability to understand and predict future changes in habitat and associated effects on species and populations. Sage grouse, is an ideal candidate to evaluate the effects of future conditions based on future habitat scenarios. Quantitative monitoring of habitat trends has been identified as a key requirement to understand and reduce uncertainty about climate change impacts on habitat and associated wildlife species. Development of future habitat scenarios for sage-grouse could allow for application to other species of conservation concern. The ability to have a quick and low-cost approach to quantify future climate risk for local patches of habitat over large areas can help land managers who are often faced with the need to make rapid and complex decisions that balance the needs of wildlife and human use of the land.


Key Findings

  • Bare ground displayed an increasing trend 1984-2011 in abundance over time, and herbaceous, litter, shrub, and sagebrush showed a decreasing trend. Total precipitation amounts show a downward trend during the same period.
  • Declines in precipitation accounted for a decrease in sagebrush (from 8.9 to 8.66%) and an increase in bare ground (from 63 to 63.7%).
  • Based on projections of ongoing declines in amounts of precipitation (to 2050), sagebrush cover would keep declining and bare ground would continue increasing.
  • Under the 2050 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change A1B scenario,
    • 11.6% of currently identified nesting habitat was lost, and 0.002% of new potential nesting habitat was gained,
    • 4% of currently identified summer habitat lost and 0.039% of new potential summer habitat was gained.  
Study Objectives
  • Examine the long-term response of sagebrush ecosystem components to trends in historical precipitation variation and develop linear models explaining this historical relationship
  • Apply these models to 2050 IPCC precipitation projections to forecast changes in components though to 2050, based on the 28-year slope relationships.
  • Use predicted 2050 sagebrush components to reapply sage-grouse habitat models to understand how sage grouse habitat quality and quantity might change as a result of precipitation-induced changes in sagebrush components
  • Evaluate recovery rates after disturbance in sagebrush habitat components from 1985 ­- 2015
  • Use framework for modeling changes in sagebrush cover to predict rates of sagebrush recovery across broad scales, including the ability to assess the influence of factors such as weather, soils, and disturbance type on recovery outcomes
Graphic showing predicted change in bare ground and sagebrush cover between 2006 and 2050.

Predicted change in bare ground and shrub between 2006 and 2050 for the A1B climate scenario. Decreases are represented in red tones and increases in green tones. (Click to enlarge).

Predicting Change in Sage Grouse Habitat

The focus of this work is to use remote-sensing tools and protocols for monitoring long-term changes in vegetation cover across the WLCI region. This information is important to understanding patterns of change within sagebrush habitats across the WLCI region, including historical changes and potential future trajectories of change. Characterizing the sagebrush landscape as components from remote sensing, allows historical analysis of previous years using imagery from satellite archives. Evaluating this data can quantify how sagebrush components have changed over time, revealing areas where change is happening. This analysis can then be tied to habitat loss or gain over time for individual species. For example, for sage grouse habitat we conducted a comprehensive examination of historical changes in five sagebrush components between 1984 and 2011 in the southwestern WLCI region. Using linear models, we related precipitation patterns with this 28-year record of change so that forecasted scenarios of vegetation change up to the year 2050 to quantify future effects on sage grouse habitat.

We then used linear models to relate precipitation patterns with this 28-year record of change so that forecasted scenarios of vegetation change up to the year 2050 could be used to quantify future effects on sage grouse habitat. We applied these models to existing habitat selection models to determine future nesting and summer sage grouse habitat. 

We are using information gained from these new approaches to evaluate and predict recovery rates of sagebrush habitat components following disturbances 

Photo of sage grouse nest.
Photo of sage grouse chick.

Sage grouse require tall, dense sagebrush for nesting. Our forecasting predicts a net loss of over 11% of nesting habitat by 2050.

Sage grouse use sagebrush habitat with lots of forbs in summer when rearing their young. Our forecasting predicts a net loss of 4% of summer habitat by 2050.