Impacts of Climate Change and Land Use  on the Southwestern United States

Impacts of climate change on life and ecosystems

Global Change Impacts in the Colorado Rockies Biogeographical Area: Research Highlights

Thomas J. Stohlgren and Jill S. Baron
Midcontinent Ecological Science Center
Biological Resources Division
U.S. Geological Survey

Representing many colleagues and partners, we present research highlights from five years of research of our long-term, ecosystem research program to assess the potential effect of global change (including land-use change) on the Colorado Rockies Biogeographical Area including Rocky Mountain National Park. The research is funded primarily by the Biological Resources Division (USGS), and previously by the National Biological Service and National Park Service, with active partnerships with the Natural Resources Ecology Laboratory at Colorado State University, Rocky Mountain National Park and the National Park Service, Rocky Mountain Nature Association, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Colorado Rockies Regional Cooperative, U.S. Geological Survey WEBB Program, USDA Forest Service, the Niwot Ridge Long-Term Ecological Research Program, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Model Evaluation Consortium for Climate Assessment (MECCA), other USGS Global Biogeographical Areas, our colleagues at Colorado State University and the Universities of Colorado, Wyoming, Toronto, and others.

Our research program consists of three integrated studies designed to: (1) develop an understanding of the abiotic and biotic controls on forest distribution and productivity as a basis for assessing potential vegetation change for a range of projected climate scenarios; (2) project a range of possible scenarios of future climate change for the Colorado Rockies; and (3) evaluate potential responses of hydrologic and aquatic ecosystem processes to climate change at watershed, drainage basin and regional scales. The ongoing synthesis of these studies is assessing the interaction between land-use change, regional vegetation distribution, mesoscale climate, and hydrology. Our goal is to develop a better understanding of regional climate and hydrologic patterns and of species-environment relationships to determine which species and ecosystem processes are most sensitive to rapid environmental change. Large, natural areas (e.g., National Parks), are ideal outdoor laboratories for this work, and research results are immediately useful in resource management, interpretation, and public outreach.


Evidence of Vegetation Change

Evidence of Climate Change

Evidence of Hydrologic Changes

Large natural areas such as National Parks have provided the U.S. Global Change Research Program with an important outdoor laboratory: an index of change in our most treasured ecosystems. Our global change/ecosystem research program focuses on multiple stresses to USDI lands including climate change, human population growth and land use change, air and water pollution, habitat fragmentation, and changes in biodiversity. More than 50 peer-reviewed publications have been produced to date. Continued support of the USGS Biological Resources Division's Global Change Research Program is an essential step toward ecosystem management and wise stewardship of public lands.


Baker, W.L., J.J. Honaker, and P.J. Weisberg. 1995. Using aerial photography and GIS to map the forest-tundra ecotone in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, for global change research. Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing 61: 313-320.

Baron J, Ojima DS, Hartman MD, Kittel TGF, Lammers RB, Band LE, Pielke, RA (1997) The influence of land cover and temperature change on hydrological and ecosystem dynamics in the South Platte River Basin. AWRA Proceedings, Water Resources Training, Education, and Practice: Opportunities for Next Century. (In Press).

Baron, J.S., D.S. Ojima, M.D. Hartman, T.G.F. Kittel, R.B. Lammer, L.E. Band, and R.A. Pielke. 1997a. The influence of land cover and temperature change on hydrological and ecosystem dynamics in the South Platte River Basin. pp. 279-287 in: J.W. Warwick, ed. Water Resources for Education, Training, and Practice: Opportunities for the next Century. AWRA , Herdon, VA.

Baron, J.S., M.D. Hartman, T.G.F. Kittel, L.E. Band, D.S Ojima, and R.B. Lammer. 1997b. Land cover, water redistribution, and temperature: factors influencing ecosystem processes and land-atmosphere fluxes in the South Platte River Basin. Ecol. Applications (in review).

Baron, J.S., M.D. Hartman, L.E. Band, and R.L. Lammers. 1997c. Sensitivity of high elevation Rocky Mountain watersheds to climate change. Proceedings of the 5th National Watershed Coalition. in press.

Binkley, D. U. Olsson, and T, Stohlgren. 1997. Nitrogen cost of production in Rocky Mountain Forests: 1. Old-growth spruce/fir. Canadian Journal of Forest Research (In Press).

Cline, D.W. 1997a. Effect of seasonality of snow accumulation and melt on snow surface energy exchanges at a continental alpine site. J. Appl. Meteorol. 36: 32-51.

Cline, D.W. 1997b. Snow surface energy exchanges and snowmelt at a continental midlatitude Alpine site. Wat. Resour. Resear. 33:689701.

Copeland J, Pielke RA, Kittel TGF (1996a) Potential climatic impacts of vegetation change: A regional modeling study. Journal of Geophysical Research, 101, 7409-7418.

Copeland JH, Chase TN, Baron J, Kittel TGF, Pielke RA (1996b) In: Regional Impacts of Global Climate Change: Assessing Change and Response at the Scales that Matter. pp. 199-212. Battel Press, Richland, Washington.

Lammers, R.B., L.E. Band, and C.L. Tague. 1997. Scaling behavior of watershed processes. in: P. van Gardingen, G. Foody, and P. Curran, eds. Scaling Up. Cambridge University Press. in press.

Mast, J.N. 1993. Climatic and disturbance factors influencing Pinus ponderosa stand structure near the forest/grassland ecotone in the Colorado Front Range, Ph.D. thesis, University of Colorado, Boulder.

Menounos, B.P. 1994. A Holocene, debris-flow chronology for an alpine catchment, Colorado Front Range. M.S. Thesis. University of Colorado Boulder. 160 pp.

Olsson, U., D. Binkley, and F.W. Smith. 1997. Nitrogen cost of production in Rocky Mountain Forests: 2. Patterns with stand age in lodgepole pine. Canadian Journal of Forest Research (In Press).

Pielke, R.A., T.J. Lee, T.G.F. Kittel, T.N. Chase, J.M. Cram, and J.S. Baron, 1994: Effects of mesoscale vegetation distributions in mountainous terrain on local climate. In: Mountain Environments in Changing Climates, M. Beniston, Ed., Routledge Publishing Company, London and New York, 121-135.

Pielke, RA Sr., Liston GE, Lu L, Vidale PL, Walko RL, Kittel TGF, Parton WJ. (1997) Coupling of Land and Atmospheric Models over the GCIP Area - Century, RAMS, and SiB2C. In: Proc. 13th Ann. Conf. on Hydrology, 77th AMS Annual Meeting, Long Beach, California (In Press).

Reasoner, M.A., 1996. Late Quaternary alpine and subalpine lacustrine records: Canadian and Colorado Rocky Mountains. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. 132 pp. Stohlgren TJ, Bachand RR (1997) Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) ecotones in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA. Ecology 78:632-641.

Stohlgren TJ, Bachand RR, Onami Y, Binkley, D. 1997a. Species-environment relationships and vegetation patterns: effects of scale and tree life-stage. Plant Ecology (In Review).

Stohlgren, T.J., T. N. Chase, R.A. Pielke, T.G. F. Kittel, and J.Baron. 1997b. Evidence that local land use practices influence regional climate and vegetation patterns in adjacent natural areas. Submitted to Global Change Biology (In Review).

Sueker, J.K. 1996. Isotopic and chemical flowpath separation of streamflow during snowmelt and hydrogeologic controls of surface-water chemistry in six alpine-subalpine basins, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Ph.D Dissertation. University of Colorado Boulder. 202 pp.

Veblen, T.T., K.S. Hadley, E.M. Nel, T. Kitzberger, M. Reid, and R. Villalba. 1994. Disturbance regime and disturbance interactions in a Rocky Mountain subalpine forest. Journal of Ecology, Vol. 82, pp. 125-135.

Weisberg, P.J. and W.L. Baker. 1995. Spatial variation in tree seedling and krummholz growth in the forest-tundra ecotone of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Arctic and Alpine Research,.v.27.

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