Scientists at the USGS Southwest Biological Science Center are partnering with the USGS Western Geographic Science Center, the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center, and the University of Arizona to help managers plan for and manage drought-impacted ecosystems in the western U.S. by conducting research that synthesizes plot-based and remotely sensed vegetation monitoring data. Analyses using a time series of Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Landsat-derived vegetation indices reveal the importance of critical climate windows and pivot points that drive vegetation condition across ecoregions of the western U.S. The team is working to understand how landscape and soil attributes, in combination with management actions, mediate climate-vegetation relationships and the balance between grasses and woody plants, which has important implications for ecosystem function. The team is building short-term forecasts of vegetation condition using multi-model ensembles of climate and water balance variables that can help managers make short-term decisions and plan for long-term changes in vegetation composition and distribution.
Perennial vegetation cover between 2000 and 2010 in the Mojave Desert has changed substantially due to prolonged drought and land use effects. USGS research is helping managers understand ecological drought and its implications for ecosystem structure and function. Abbreviations: DEVA, Death Valley National Park; JOTR, Joshua Tree National Park; MOJA, Mojave National Preserve.