Ecological transformations, also known as state changes, regime shifts or vegetation type conversions, can be caused by many different disturbances including wildfire, climate change, and invasive species, as well as interactions between these drivers (Guiterman et al. 2022; Kerns et al. 2020; Gaertner et al. 2014). Examples of invasive species-mediated transformations in the western US can be seen via the spread of invasive grasses (e.g., cheatgrass, medusahead, ventenata, and bufflegrass) into sagebrush steppe and forest systems (Bradley et al. 2006; Kerns et al 2020). However, The carbon consequences of such transformations are not well documented. In this project, we will 1) generate novel, co-produced research on where in the North Central US ecosystems have experienced transformation due to invasive species and climate change, 2) quantify carbon consequences of this change, and 3) evaluate management practices that enhance carbon storage and improve resilience by engaging the NC RISCC network.
Effects of Ecological Transformation on Wildlife Communities
Ecological transformations affect a broad suite of physical, chemical, and biological properties, including the structure of wildlife communities. In the sagebrush biome, conversion to annual grasslands via species invasions and altered fire regimes poses a threat to native breeding bird communities. Yet, it remains uncertain how these factors individually and interactively affect bird species and communities, challenging avian conservation in the region. This research aims to (1) quantify the responses of species and communities to fire and invasive annual grasses across the sagebrush biome; (2) predict areas of high bird conservation value and assess their transformation status.