3A.8 Advancing Ecological Drought with a Focus on Preparedness and Innovative Uses of Drought Prediction

Monday, 8 January 2018: 3:45 PM
Room 18A (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Shelley Crausbay, Conservation Science Partners, Fort Collins, CO; and A. E. Cravens, J. McEvoy, A. Ramirez, J. Bradford, and S. Munson

Ecological drought was recently introduced as a new drought definition to encapsulate ecological impacts from drought, such as mass fish kills or widespread tree mortality. These ecological impacts have real consequences for both biodiversity and human communities through a loss of ecosystem services, and a new framework now supports their inclusion in monitoring and drought-planning efforts. As we work to better understand ecological impacts from drought, it is clear that they challenge the traditional "crisis response" approach to drought management, which has more focus on mitigating the impacts than on long term prevention strategies. Ecological management strategies acting on the typical crisis-response time scales are potentially ineffective because many ecological impacts threaten to quickly cross thresholds, with a persistent state change to the ecosystem. As a result, ecological drought inspires the emerging frontier in ecological research of anticipatory management, with the goal of linking science with innovative management strategies to reduce vulnerability to ecological drought through 1) preparedness strategies enacted before a drought hits to offset mortality, or 2) management responses taken after drought has passed that focus on recovery and anticipate post-drought climatology.

The Science for Nature and People Partnership’s (SNAPP) Ecological Drought Working Group used interviews and focus groups to better understand monitoring, response, and preparation for ecological drought and to identify stakeholder needs for scientific information to help craft new strategies. We worked with two groups to accomplish these goals. First, we interviewed a diverse set of individuals connected with a drought-planning effort focused on proactive preparedness strategies, coordinated by the State of Montana and the National Drought Resilience Partnership (NDRP) to reduce drought vulnerability in the Upper Missouri Headwaters (UMH). We asked these stakeholders about the reactive and proactive strategies already in use for ecological drought, and what, if any, science gaps prevent the development of new strategies for ecological drought. Second, we engaged natural resource managers in the southwestern US who see drought as an important management concern with a focus group at the 2017 Biennial Conference of Science & Management on the Colorado Plateau & Southwest Region. We asked similar questions of this stakeholder group as with those in the UMH, and we added questions that focused on innovative management uses of skillful weather/climate forecasts 1-2 years out, 10 years out, or on climate-change time scales.

We found that managers in these landscapes seek new monitoring systems and new scientific analysis to support proactive, preparedness strategies for ecological drought. A greater density and extent of soil moisture sensors was by far the greatest monitoring need, and multiple new scientific analyses emerged as important to support anticipatory management of ecological drought, including more skillful weather forecasts on the 2-5 year time scale, greater understanding of groundwater and surface water interactions, and the ability to predict successional trajectories after drought. In the southwestern US, the forefront of some recent profound ecological droughts, innovative management uses of weather/climate prediction are being developed on several time-scales to work with ecological processes involved with mortality and recovery. This “bottom-up” view from stakeholders suggests there is a great opportunity for ecological drought research to move toward integrating ecological analyses, traditional natural resource management techniques, and more skillful weather and climate forecasts to craft drought adaptation strategies that are successful in the 21st century.

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