Rangeland vulnerability to state transition under global climate change

  • Carissa L. WonkkaEmail author
  • Dirac Twidwell
  • Brady W. Allred
  • Christine H. Bielski
  • Victoria M. Donovan
  • Caleb P. Roberts
  • Samuel D. Fuhlendorf


The rapid pace of global climate change necessitates tools for prioritizing limited climate-adaptation resources in the face of imperfect knowledge regarding plant community responses to changing climate. In addition, global climate change often leads to novel shifts in plant communities which are difficult to anticipate with detailed models based on current system dynamics, which are often greatly altered under novel climates. In order to identify nonforested plant communities that are highly susceptible to state transitions under global climate change, we examined differences between the historical climate envelopes and end-of-century projections. We developed a vulnerability index based on the realized climate envelope for a given plant community relative to future climate exposure under two different climate-forcing models. To provide an approach to prioritizing climate-change adaptation resources at smaller scales, we used scenario analysis to determine the probability of falling outside of the historical climate envelope for each vegetation type present in a given management unit. The large-scale index consistently identified several areas as highly vulnerable to ecosystem state transition under future global climate change. South and north central Texas, the northwestern Great Plains and Rocky Mountain regions, eastern Kansas, and large portions of central and western Texas appear most vulnerable under both climate models. Scenarios identified thresholds of potential state shift for every vegetation type in the small-scale management areas investigated. Our study identifies a simple method for determining the relative vulnerability of nonforested plant communities to state shifts, providing a robust approach for prioritizing limited climate-adaptation resources at multiple scales.


Rangelands Scenario analysis Alternative states 



We thank Maribeth Milner for creating the maps.

Funding information

This research was funded by the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) Natural Resources Stewardship (EL-21) program, grant award W912HZ-12-1-0003.

Supplementary material

10584_2018_2365_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (56 kb)
(PDF 55.7 KB)
10584_2018_2365_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (36.3 mb)
(PDF 36.3 MB)
10584_2018_2365_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (81 kb)
(PDF 81.1 KB)


  1. Augustine DJ, Blumenthal DM, Springer TL, LeCain DR, Gunter SA, Derner JD (2018) Ecol Appl 28(3):721Google Scholar
  2. Bestelmeyer BT, Herrick JE, Brown JR, Trujillo DA, Havstad KM (2004) Environmental Management 34(1):38., Google Scholar
  3. Bestelmeyer BT, Okin GS, Duniway MC, Archer SR, Sayre NF, Williamson JC, Herrick JE (2015) Front Ecol Environ 13(1):28Google Scholar
  4. Blumenthal DM, Resco V, Morgan JA, Williams DG, LeCain DR, Hardy EM, Pendall E, Bladyka E (2013) New Phytol 200(4):1156Google Scholar
  5. Briske DD, Fuhlendorf SD, Smeins FE (2006) Rangel Ecol Manag 59(3):225. Google Scholar
  6. Briske DD, Joyce LA, Polley HW, Brown JR, Wolter K, Morgan JA, McCarl BA, Bailey DW (2015) Front Ecol Environ 13(5):249Google Scholar
  7. Brooker RW, Maestre FT, Callaway RM, Lortie CL, Cavieres LA, Kunstler G, Liancourt P, Tielbörger K, Travis JM, Anthelme F (2008) J Ecol 96(1):18Google Scholar
  8. Callaway RM, Aschehoug ET (2000) Science 290(5491):521Google Scholar
  9. Callaway RM, Brooker R, Choler P, Kikvidze Z, Lortie CJ, Michalet R, Paolini L, Pugnaire FI, Newingham B, Aschehoug ET (2002) Nature 417(6891):844Google Scholar
  10. Cess RD, Potter G, Blanchet J, Boer G, Del Genio A, Deque M, Dymnikov V, Galin V, Gates W, Ghan S et al (1990) J Geophys Res-Atmos 95(D10):16601Google Scholar
  11. Chaplin-Kramer R, Tuxen-Bettman K, Kremen C (2011) Rangelands 33(3):33Google Scholar
  12. Christensen L, Coughenour MB, Ellis JE, Chen ZZ (2004) Clim Chang 63(3):351Google Scholar
  13. Clark JS, Bell DM, Hersh MH, Nichols L (2011) Glob Chang Biol 17(5):1834Google Scholar
  14. Comer P, Faber-Langendoen D, Evans R, Gawler S, Josse C, Kittel G, Menard S, Pyne M, Reid M, Schulz K (2003) Natureserve, Arlington VAGoogle Scholar
  15. Cramer W, Bondeau A, Woodward FI, Prentice IC, Betts RA, Brovkin V, Cox PM, Fisher V, Foley JA, Friend AD (2001) Glob Chang Biol 7 (4):357Google Scholar
  16. De Kauwe MG, Medlyn BE, Walker AP, Zaehle S, Asao S, Guenet B, Harper AB, Hickler T, Jain AK, Luo Y et al (2017) Glob Chang Biol 23(9):3623Google Scholar
  17. Dougill AJ, Fraser EDG, Reed MS (2010) Anticipating vulnerability to climate change in dryland pastoral systems: using dynamic systems models for the Kalahari. Ecol Soc 15(2):17Google Scholar
  18. Füssel HM (2007) Glob Environ Chang 17(2):155Google Scholar
  19. Füssel HM (2010) Review and quantitative analysis of indices of climate change exposure, adaptive capacity, sensitivity, and impacts (Washington DC: World BankGoogle Scholar
  20. Füssel HM, Klein RJ (2006) Clim Chang 75(3):301Google Scholar
  21. Gill JL, Williams JW, Jackson ST, Lininger KB, Robinson GS (2009) Science 326(5956):1100Google Scholar
  22. Gilman SE, Urban MC, Tewksbury J, Gilchrist GW, Holt RD (2010) Trends Ecol Evol 25(6):325Google Scholar
  23. Gnass Giese EE, Howe RW, Wolf AT, Miller NA, Walton NG (2015) Ecosphere 6(6):1Google Scholar
  24. Gonzalez P, Neilson RP, Lenihan JM, Drapek RJ (2010) Glob Ecol Biogeogr 19(6):755Google Scholar
  25. Grimm NB, Chapin FS, Bierwagen B, Gonzalez P, Groffman PM, Luo Y, Melton F, Nadelhoffer K, Pairis A, Raymond PA (2013) Front Ecol Environ 11(9):474Google Scholar
  26. Hanson J, Baker B, Bourdon R (1993) Agric Syst 41(4):487Google Scholar
  27. Havstad KM, Peters DP, Skaggs R, Brown J, Bestelmeyer B, Fredrickson E, Herrick J, Wright J (2007) Ecol Econ 64(2):261Google Scholar
  28. Heikkinen RK, Luoto M, Araújo MB, Virkkala R, Thuiller W, Sykes MT (2006) Prog Phys Geogr 30(6):751Google Scholar
  29. Higgins PA, Harte J (2012) J Clim 25(21):7660Google Scholar
  30. IPCC A (2007) Climate change 2007: synthesis reportGoogle Scholar
  31. Iverson L, Prasad A, Matthews S (2008) Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Chang 13(5-6):487Google Scholar
  32. Jaarsveld ASV, Freitag S, Chown SL, Muller C, Koch S, Hull H, Bellamy C, Krüger M, Endrödy-Younga S, Mansell MW, Scholtz CH (1998) Science 279(5359):2106. Google Scholar
  33. Joyce LA, Briske DD, Brown JR, Polley HW, McCarl BA, Bailey DW (2013) Rangel Ecol Manag 66(5):512Google Scholar
  34. Klanderud K (2005) J Ecol 93(1):127Google Scholar
  35. Lawler JJ (2009) Ann N Y Acad Sci 1162(1):79Google Scholar
  36. Leemans R, Eickhout B (2004) Glob Environ Chang 14(3):219Google Scholar
  37. Mäler KG (2000) Eur Econ Rev 44(4-6):645Google Scholar
  38. Martin R, Müller B, Linstädter A, Frank K (2014) Glob Environ Chang 24:183Google Scholar
  39. Meier GA, Brown JF, Evelsizer RJ, Vogelmann JE (2015) Ecol Indic 48:189Google Scholar
  40. Mooney H, Larigauderie A, Cesario M, Elmquist T, Hoegh-Guldberg O, Lavorel S, Mace GM, Palmer M, Scholes R, Yahara T (2009) Curr Opin Environ Sustain 1(1):46Google Scholar
  41. Moss RH, Edmonds JA, Hibbard KA, Manning MR, Rose SK, Van Vuuren DP, Carter TR, Emori S, Kainuma M, Kram T (2010) Nature 463(7282):747Google Scholar
  42. Mueller KE, Blumenthal DM, Pendall E, Carrillo Y, Dijkstra FA, Williams DG, Follett RF, Morgan JA (2016) Ecol Lett 19(8):956Google Scholar
  43. Niu S, Luo Y, Li D, Cao S, Xia J, Li J, Smith MD (2014) Environ Exp Bot 98:13Google Scholar
  44. Olson LE, Sauder JD, Albrecht NM, Vinkey RS, Cushman SA, Schwartz MK (2014) Biol Conserv 169:89Google Scholar
  45. Polley HW, Briske DD, Morgan JA, Wolter K, Bailey DW, Brown JR (2013) Rangel Ecol Manag 66(5):493Google Scholar
  46. Preston BL, Yuen EJ, Westaway RM (2011) Sustain Sci 6(2):177Google Scholar
  47. Randall DA, Wood RA, Bony S, Colman R, Fichefet T, Fyfe J, Kattsov V, Pitman A, Shukla J, Srinivasan J (2007) In: Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. Contribution of working group I to the fourth assessment report of the IPCC (FAR) (Cambridge University Press), pp 589–662Google Scholar
  48. Reeves MC, Moreno AL, Bagne KE, Running SW (2014) Clim Chang 126(3-4):429Google Scholar
  49. Rocha JC, Peterson GD, Biggs R (2015) PLOs One 10(8):e0134639Google Scholar
  50. Rollins MG (2009) Int J Wildland Fire 18(3):235Google Scholar
  51. Scheffer M, Carpenter S, Foley JA, Folke C, Walker B (2001) Nature 413(6856):591Google Scholar
  52. Silverman BW (1986) Density estimation for statistics and data analysis. Routledge, AbingdonGoogle Scholar
  53. Sitch S, Smith B, Prentice IC, Arneth A, Bondeau A, Cramer W, Kaplan J, Levis S, Lucht W, Sykes MT (2003) Glob Chang Biol 9(2):161Google Scholar
  54. Smit B, Wandel J (2006) Glob Environ Chang 16(3):282Google Scholar
  55. Stein BA, Scott C, Benton N (2008) BioScience. 58(4)., bibtex[eprint=/oup/backfile/content_public/journal/bioscience/58/4/10.1641_b580409/4/58-4-339.pdf]
  56. Tazik DJ, Martin CO (2002) Arid Land Res Manag 16(3):259Google Scholar
  57. Thuiller W (2004) Glob Chang Biol 10(12):2020Google Scholar
  58. Vincent CH, Hanson LA, Argueta CN (2017) Federal land ownership: overview and data. Congressional research, service report R42346Google Scholar
  59. Volder A, Briske DD, Tjoelker MG (2013) Glob Chang Biol 19(3):843Google Scholar
  60. Walther GR, Post E, Convey P, Menzel A, Parmesan C, Beebee TJ, Fromentin JM, Hoegh-Guldberg O, Bairlein F (2002) Nature 416(6879):389Google Scholar
  61. Wang Y, Nemani R, Dieffenbach F, Stolte K, Holcomb G, Robinson M, Reese CC, Reese M, Duhaime R, Tierney G et al (2010) 2010 IEEE International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium (IGARSS). (IEEE), pp 2095–2098Google Scholar
  62. Watson JE, Iwamura T, Butt N (2013) Nat Clim Chang 3(11):989Google Scholar
  63. Wilbanks TJ, Kates RW (1999) Clim Chang 43(3):601Google Scholar
  64. Williams JW, Jackson ST (2007) Front Ecol Environ 5(9):475Google Scholar
  65. Wise R, Fazey I, Smith MS, Park S, Eakin H, Van Garderen EA, Campbell B (2014) Glob Environ Chang 28:325Google Scholar
  66. Wuebbles D, Fahey D, Hibbard K, Dokken B, Stewart B, Maycock T (2017) In: Washington, DC, p 470Google Scholar
  67. Yang H, Wu M, Liu W, Zhang Z, Zhang N, Wan S (2011) Glob Chang Biol 17(1):452. Google Scholar
  68. Zelikova TJ, Blumenthal DM, Williams DG, Souza L, LeCain DR, Morgan J, Pendall E (2014) Proc Natl Acad Sci 111(43):15456Google Scholar
  69. Zelikova TJ, Williams DG, Hoenigman R, Blumenthal DM, Morgan JA, Pendall E (2015) J Ecol 103(5):1119Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Agronomy and HorticultureUniversity of NebraskaLincolnUSA
  2. 2.College of Forestry and ConservationUniversity of MontanaMissoulaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Natural Resource Ecology and ManagementOklahoma State UniversityStillwaterUSA

Personalised recommendations