“Like a tree falling in the forest, does drought occur if there is no human to record or experience it?”
Shelley Crausbay, senior scientist with Conservation Science Partners, posed this question to attendees at the first segment of a four-part series on ecological drought.
“I think this question is a really important one for us to all think about,” she said. “It’s really important these days. We are starting to see very strong ecological impacts from drought.”
The National Integrated Drought Information System and the U.S. Geological Survey National Climate Adaptation and Science Center, are hosting a four-part webinar series during February and March to help increase awareness of ecological drought, tactics to strengthen ecosystem resilience and mitigate drought impact, and discuss research and management needs for future drought planning and preparedness.
In the first segment, ecological drought is introduced as a scientific concept distinct from other definitions of drought and explored research on the topic including ecological tipping points and transformational drought impacts.
Crausbay, based in Fort Collins, Colorado, is a plant community ecologist, ecological modeler and paleo ecologist whose research focuses on triggers of ecological state changes, climate drivers of vegetation patterns and dynamics and the role of disturbance within a changing climate context.
“These days, we are starting to see very strong ecological impacts from drought,” she said.
Crausbay defines ecological drought as an episodic deficit in water availability that drives—because of ecosystems—beyond a threshold of vulnerability. It impacts ecosystem services and it triggers feedbacks in both natural and human systems. It could be things like meteorological conditions or the sensitivity of the ecological characteristics in the environment.
“Maybe it’s fish, maybe it’s trees, and then the adaptive capacity of those systems,” she said. “So the evolutionary and sort of genetic basis for how these biotic systems can be plastic or adapt in response to drought.”
Looking at remotely sensed data in a new drought index called vegi dry that looks at the time vegetation is under severe drought conditions. A great deal of the United States has been under severe or extreme drought conditions for some time, she said, and it’s difficult to determine what kind of classification drought should be in some instances—whether the drought fits into hydrological drought, agricultural drought or socioeconomic drought.
“That’s what really brought our group to the table to really think about ecological drought,” she said. “And this goes far beyond thinking about just vegetation, or vegetation impacts. Drought is impacting lots of pieces of ecosystems.”
Things like wildlife, small animals, and those large animals in…
Read more:: Webinar explains ecological drought | Ag News