Climatic Change

, Volume 153, Issue 1–2, pp 59–78 | Cite as

Rangeland vulnerability to state transition under global climate change

  • Carissa L. WonkkaEmail author
  • Dirac Twidwell
  • Brady W. Allred
  • Christine H. Bielski
  • Victoria M. Donovan
  • Caleb P. Roberts
  • Samuel D. Fuhlendorf


The rapid pace of global climate change necessitates tools for prioritizing limited climate-adaptation resources in the face of imperfect knowledge regarding plant community responses to changing climate. In addition, global climate change often leads to novel shifts in plant communities which are difficult to anticipate with detailed models based on current system dynamics, which are often greatly altered under novel climates. In order to identify nonforested plant communities that are highly susceptible to state transitions under global climate change, we examined differences between the historical climate envelopes and end-of-century projections. We developed a vulnerability index based on the realized climate envelope for a given plant community relative to future climate exposure under two different climate-forcing models. To provide an approach to prioritizing climate-change adaptation resources at smaller scales, we used scenario analysis to determine the probability of falling outside of the historical climate envelope for each vegetation type present in a given management unit. The large-scale index consistently identified several areas as highly vulnerable to ecosystem state transition under future global climate change. South and north central Texas, the northwestern Great Plains and Rocky Mountain regions, eastern Kansas, and large portions of central and western Texas appear most vulnerable under both climate models. Scenarios identified thresholds of potential state shift for every vegetation type in the small-scale management areas investigated. Our study identifies a simple method for determining the relative vulnerability of nonforested plant communities to state shifts, providing a robust approach for prioritizing limited climate-adaptation resources at multiple scales.


Rangelands Scenario analysis Alternative states 



We thank Maribeth Milner for creating the maps.

Funding information

This research was funded by the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) Natural Resources Stewardship (EL-21) program, grant award W912HZ-12-1-0003.

Supplementary material

10584_2018_2365_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (56 kb)
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10584_2018_2365_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (36.3 mb)
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10584_2018_2365_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (81 kb)
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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Agronomy and HorticultureUniversity of NebraskaLincolnUSA
  2. 2.College of Forestry and ConservationUniversity of MontanaMissoulaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Natural Resource Ecology and ManagementOklahoma State UniversityStillwaterUSA

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