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Climate Change

Assessing Riparian Habitat Vulnerability to Climate Change in Drylands


Romy Sabathier, PhD Student, Cardiff University, United Kingdom:

Conor McMahon, Graduate Student, University of California, Santa Barbara:


Riparian forests in drylands function as important habitats and migratory corridors by providing cool, wet refugia within a harsh landscape. Consequently, numerous threatened and endangered species rely upon them. However, these habitats depend on water availability from streamflow and groundwater, which makes them vulnerable to drought and climate change. This sensitivity is magnified by their small size, narrow extent, and isolation from one another. Being able to efficiently and accurately map riparian forests while understanding how climate risk varies between individual stream reaches is vital for effective management.

We developed remote sensing tools for classifying vegetation communities and mapping riparian areas across dry landscapes. Our approach was successfully applied to multiple dryland systems in California (Vandenberg Space Force Base, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton) and Arizona (Fort Huachuca). After mapping riparian communities, we identified individual reaches that are especially vulnerable to climate change by mapping flow permanence and tracking vegetation health and density trends over time. Our analysis was implemented on local to regional scales, rapidly and efficiently, with the goal to provide tools to help inform active management of riparian areas and plan for the future.

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