Forecasting resource availability for wildlife populations in desert grasslands under future climate extremes

Project Start Year

Principal Investigators


  • Esther Rubin (Arizona Game and Fish Department)
  • Britta Daudert (Desert Research Institute)
  • Tyler Creech (Center for Large Landscape Conservation)
  • Steven Sesnie (US Fish and Wildlife Service, Southwest Region)
  • Dan Cayan (Scripps Institution of Oceanography)
  • Matt Williamson (University of California, Davis


The desert grasslands of the southwestern United States support many wildlife species of management concern and economic value. The American pronghorn, for example, is a game species that contributes to local and state economies. Climate extremes, including severe droughts, heat waves, and atmospheric river events, are expected to occur more frequently in the Southwest. These extremes can affect the availability of food and water needed by wildlife. Wildlife management agencies and conservation organizations need information on resource availability for wildlife under future climate scenarios to design effective management strategies to sustain wildlife populations.
Project scientists are working with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other partners to understand the effects of changing resource availability on four grassland species: American pronghorn (Antilocapra americana), Gunnison’s prairie dog (Cynomys gunnisoni), Scaled Quail (Callipepla squamat), and Gambel’s Quail (Callipepla gambelii).
The project team will use historical climate data, satellite data on vegetation greenness, and field data on the locations and abundance of wildlife populations to explore the links among climate variables, food availability, and wildlife populations. The team then will use climate models to project how forage, and ultimately wildlife populations, are likely to respond to projected changes in climate. 
This project will help inform landscape-level planning, establish conservation priorities, and suggest management approaches for adapting to shifting climate and resource availability for wildlife. For example, results of this research could be used by state wildlife agencies to guide management of grasslands for species of greatest conservation need or economically important game species, by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to establish high-priority locations within the National Wildlife Refuge System, and by conservation organizations to prioritize conservation easements and land purchases in grasslands likely to remain high-quality habitat for wildlife.

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