Western Mountain Initiative: Response of Western Mountain Ecosystems to Climatic Variability and Change: Southern Rocky Mountains

Research Project: 

BB06DN7.2.2

Project Manager: 

Craig Allen
Post-fire ecosystem recovery following two high-severity wildfires in the Jemez Mountains, New Mexico. Shrublands now dominate an area once covered by forest.  Photo: Collin Haffey/USGS
Post-fire ecosystem recovery following two high-severity wildfires in the Jemez Mountains, New Mexico. Shrublands now dominate an area once covered by forest. Photo by Collin Haffey, USGS.

Mountain ecosystems of the western U.S. provide irreplaceable goods and services such as water, wood, biodiversity, and recreational opportunities, but their potential responses to anticipated climatic changes are poorly understood. The overarching objective of the Western Mountain Initiative (WMI) is to understand and predict the responses—emphasizing sensitivities, thresholds, resistance, and resilience—of western mountain ecosystems to climatic variability and change. Objectives of this task include (1) elucidating centennial- to millennial-length shifts in past vegetation and fire regimes; (2) determining responses of fire to short-term (annual to decadal) climatic variation; (3) elucidating long- and short-term climatic controls of tree mortality, including thresholds for dieback; and (4) determining the effects of climatic variability, fire, and land use on watershed runoff and erosion processes. FORT scientists also will continue documenting rapid and extensive climate-induced vegetation mortality, assembling information on global patterns and processes of drought and heat-induced forest die-off, and conducting long-term ecohydrological research in the Frijolito Watershed in Bandelier National Monument.

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