Climate Change Report Released

Climate Change in Grasslands, Shrublands, and Deserts of the Interior American West: A Review and Needs Assessment

FORT COLLINS, Colo., Aug. 27, 2012 - Climate change poses as much risk to public and private grassland and shrubland ecosystems as it does to forested ecosystems yet receives less attention by the public and key stakeholders. Consequently, most climate change research concentrates on forested ecosystems, leaving grassland and shrubland managers with insufficient information to guide decision making.

The USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station published a comprehensive report summarizing climate change research and potential effects on grassland, shrub, and desert ecosystems. The report, “Climate Change in Grasslands, Shrublands, and Deserts of the Interior American West: A Review and Needs Assessment,” highlights current knowledge and future research essential to mitigate the prospective detrimental effects of climate change. It addresses animal, plant, and invasive species models and responses, vulnerabilities and genetic adaption, animal species and habitats, and decision support tools for restoration and land management.

In 2010, RMRS Grasslands, Shrublands, and Deserts Ecosystems Science Program Manager, Dr. Deborah Finch, encouraged program scientists to evaluate existing knowledge and research needs through the framework of climate change to ignite interest, develop new studies and add a valuable dimension to existing work. In response, 19 scientists and researchers from the Rocky Mountain Research Station collaborated across six states including New Mexico, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Nevada and Utah, and with colleagues from the University of New Mexico, University of Arizona, University of Wisconsin, and Dryland Institute, to summarize the current literature, conduct a needs assessment review, and develop decision support guidelines applicable for land management.

“Research has revealed direct evidence of the effects of climate change on ecosystems and many plant and animal species. Birds are migrating further north, some plant and animal species are distributed further up mountains than 20-30 years ago, and rivers and marshes in the Southwest are impacted by long-term drought,” Finch said.  “Rivers are critical areas for migrating and breeding birds and other animals, contributing to high biological diversity, and are important for irrigation, recreation, and human settlement.”

Findings from the report include:

Transformations in native and invasive flora and fauna—by the turn of the century, climate in the western U.S. may be incompatible with current vegetation types, resulting in shifting patterns of terrestrial ecosystems.

In arid and semi-arid shrublands and deserts, invasive grass species with higher flammability, like cheatgrass, will spread and increase both fire frequency and extent.

Invasive species are one of the greatest threats to the health and sustainability of ecosystems worldwide—invasive species control costs the U.S. an estimated $137 billion annually.

Climate affects timing, migration, and reproduction cycles of plant and animal species—increased temperatures can affect insect development time and result in significant increases in generations per year/per habitat and expose new environments to colonization.

Increasing water scarcity such as disruption of water flow regimes, and river and wetland drying, are likely to become overriding conservation issues.

Native intact cold desert shrublands can store 30 percent more carbon than the average regional flora and be restored as an alternative source of carbon sequestration.

To read the report online, visit, or to request a printed copy (available after Sept. 3, 2012) call (970) 498-1392 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and reference RMRS-GTR-285.

The RMRS is one of seven regional units that make up the U.S. Forest Service Research and Development organization – the most extensive natural resources research organization in the world.  The Station maintains 12 field laboratories throughout a 12-state territory encompassing the Great Basin, Southwest, Rocky Mountains, and parts of the Great Plains, and administers and conducts research on 14 experimental forests, ranges, and watersheds, while maintaining long-term databases for these areas.  RMRS research is broken into seven science program areas that serve the Forest Service as well as other federal and state agencies, international organizations, private groups, and individuals.  To find out more about the RMRS go to You can also follow us on Twitter at


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