In the semi-arid environment of the Colorado Plateau, soil moisture is an important driver of vegetation growth. The recent drought-related die-off of trees across the Southwest has highlighted how ecosystems may be vulnerable to changes in available water. Climate change models predict drier conditions over the next century.
How will these changes affect vegetation in these already dry ecosystems? The Southwest Biological Science Center of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Southern Colorado Plateau Network of the National Park Service (NPS) have teamed up to answer this question. They used soil and vegetation data from ecosystems in nine network parks to model soil moisture under predicted climate conditions.
Their results predicted the amount of water that would be available to plants in the future. This information will help park managers to identify which plant communities may be at higher risk due to drought. This knowledge will enable scientists to develop strategies that will improve long-term ecosystem resistance and resilience, thus, helping to preserve our parks for future generations.