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Climate Change

Contrasting Riparian Plant Vulnerability to Drought and Climate Change by Plant Functional Type


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


Numerous threatened and endangered species in the drylands of the American Southwest depend on riparian vegetation for their survival, but their precise habitat needs vary substantially. Different types of riparian plants (e.g. taller trees such as Populus sp. or shrubs such as Salix sp.) respond differently to loss of water from drought or groundwater depletion. Consequently, an understanding of the differences in response of various riparian habitat types to water limitation is vitally important.

We used remote sensing tools to track changes in plant health over time in response to drought and groundwater levels on two military bases in California – Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base and Vandenberg Space Force Base. Response to water limitation varied between plant functional and structural types. This translates into substantially different climate outcomes for the various threatened and endangered organisms, which depend on each of these habitats. Our approach relies on publicly available data products and methods, which are extensible across military installations throughout the Southwest.

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