Climate Change Effects on Shrub-Steppe and Grassland Habitats in Washington State
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Climate Change Effects on Shrub-Steppe and Grassland Habitats in Washington State

Category: Climate Change Science

Date Published: January 2011

Number of Pages: 63


This paper is a reference document—a “science summary”— for the Ecosystems, Species, and Habitats Topic Advisory Group (TAG), which is one of four topic groups working with Washington state agencies to prepare a statewide Integrated Climate Change Response Strategy. The climate change response strategy was initiated in 2009 by the state legislature (SB 5560) to help the state adapt to climate change.

The purpose of this paper is to provide TAG members with information on the potential effects of climate change in shrub-steppe and grassland ecosystems. The paper summarizes and organizes relevant literature regarding observed changes, future projections, and implications for biological communities to inform the assessment of priorities and the development of recommendations to the Washington State legislature about possible adaptation responses.

This document draws primarily from peer-reviewed studies, synthesis reports, and government publications. This document is for discussion purposes only and is not intended to be published or cited. In most cases, this document uses language taken directly from the cited sources. Readers should refer to and cite the primary sources of information. Please note that we accepted information as it was presented in synthesis reports. In cases where we accepted the interpretation of primary information as it was stated in a secondary source, we have provided the following note in the footnote: “Information as cited in [secondary source].”

This summary reports central findings from published literature and does not address all the inherent complexity and uncertainty that may be present in ecological and climatic systems. This is especially true of future climate projections, which are often based on multi-model ensembles that do not perfectly capture the complexity of Washington’s unique climate systems and geographic variability. Future projections are valuable primarily to identify a directional trend and a sense of magnitude.

This paper is a joint production of National Wildlife Federation and Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. This draft benefitted from the review and input of WDFW scientists (George Wilhere, Matt Vander Haegen, Kurt Merg and Mike Schroeder), DNR scientists (Rex Crawford), NWF scientists (Doug Inkley) and external experts (Sonia Hall, The Nature Conservancy; and Julie Conley, South Central Washington Shrub-Steppe/Rangeland Partnership).

We must emphasize that this discussion draft is neither comprehensive nor complete. In this complex and rapidly evolving field, we do not expect that we have identified all of the most up-to-date data or presented the full complexity of climate projections. In addition, there are many gaps in knowledge, especially regarding climate change effects on specific habitats or species. Still, we hope that this provides a starting point for discussion, and that readers will augment this with additional data to advance our understanding of climate impacts and responses.