Spatial decision-support tools to guide restoration and seed-sourcing in the Desert Southwest

Shryock, D.F.; DeFalco, L.A.; Esque, T.C.

Publication Date:

Altered disturbance regimes and shifting climates have increased the need for large‐scale restoration treatments across the western United States. Seed‐sourcing remains a considerable challenge for revegetation efforts, particularly on public lands where policy favors the use of native, locally sourced plant material to avoid maladaptation. An important area of emphasis for public agencies has been the development of spatial tools to guide selection of genetically appropriate seed. When genetic information is not available, current seed transfer guidelines stipulate use of climate‐based or provisional seed transfer zones, which serve as a proxy for local adaptation by representing climate gradients to which plants are commonly adapted. Despite this guidance, little emphasis has been placed on identifying best practices for deriving provisional seed zones or on incorporating predictions from future climate. We describe a flexible, multivariate procedure for deriving such zones that incorporates a broad range of climatic characteristics while accounting for covariation among climate variables. With this approach, we derive provisional seed zones for four regions in the Desert Southwest (the Mojave Desert, Sonoran Desert, Colorado Plateau, and Southern Great Basin). To facilitate future‐resilient restoration designs, we project each zone into its relative position in the future climate based on near‐term, RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 emissions scenarios. Although provisional seed zones are useful in a variety of contexts, there are also situations in which site‐specific guidance is preferable. To meet this need, we implement Climate Distance Mapper, an interactive decision‐support tool designed to help practitioners match seed sources with restoration sites through an accessible online interface. The application allows users to rank the suitability of seed sources anywhere on the landscape based on multivariate climate distances. Users can perform calculations for either the current or future climates. Additionally, tools are available to guide sample effort in regional‐scale seed collections or to partition the landscape into climate clusters representing suitable planting sites for different seed sources. Our tools and analytic procedures represent a flexible and reproducible framework for advancing native plant development programs in the Desert Southwest and beyond.

Resource Type:
Peer-reviewed Article