Increasing operational resilience for sagebrush ecosystems by integrating indicator species metrics at multiple spatial scales into decision support tools

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Mark Ricca

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Unprecedented conservation planning efforts for imperiled sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) ecosystems of western North America increasingly focus on enhancing operational resilience though tractable decision-support tools that link spatially explicit variation in soil and plant processes to outcomes of biotic and abiotic disturbances spanning large spatial extents. However, failure to consider higher trophic-level fauna in these tools can hinder efforts to operationalize resilience owing to spatiotemporal lags between slower reorganization of plant and soil processes following disturbance and faster behavioral and demographic responses of fauna to disturbance. Here, we provide multi-scale examples of decision-support tools for management and restoration actions that evaluate ecological resilience mapped to variation in soil moisture and temperature regimes through new lenses of habitat suitability and population performance responses for an at-risk obligate species to sagebrush ecosystems, the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). We then describe pathways for more explicit integration of sage-grouse fitness with factors influencing variation in sagebrush resilience to disturbance and resistance to invasive species (e.g., annual grasses). The intended product of these efforts is a more targeted operational definition of ecological resilience for managers with quantifiable metrics that limit spatiotemporal mismatches among restoration responses owing to differences in engineering resilience between sagebrush ecosystem processes and sage-grouse population dynamics. We primarily describe tools that address threats to sagebrush ecosystems in the Great Basin in the western portion of sage-grouse range (i.e., grass-fire cycles and conifer expansion), but underlying concepts have broader application to a range of ecosystems. Some preliminary information is provided for timely best science.

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Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program

Society for Ecological Restoration