NMSU Study Predicts Wildfires Will Accelerate Dusky Grouse Decline

LAS CRUCES – Climate change is likely to wipe out populations of a forest grouse native to the Rocky Mountains over the next few decades, but catastrophic wildfires could accelerate the species’ decline.

That’s according to Jennifer Frey, a faculty member of New Mexico State University’s Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Ecology, and two of her former students, NMSU alumni. Joe Youtz and Reza Goljani, who co-authored a recent study examining the impact of climate. change on the black grouse.

The Dusky Grouse is a cold-adapted species found in the coniferous forests of the southwestern United States, including the southern Rocky Mountains and isolated mountain ranges of Arizona and New Mexico. . Recognized as a “climate-threatened” species by the National Audubon Society, the dusky grouse faces substantial habitat loss as climate change continues to devastate forests and fuel more extreme wildfires.

For their study, published in the journal Avian Conservation and Ecology, Frey’s team collected historical data on climate, topography and land cover to develop a species distribution model that describes the geographic range grouse from New Mexico and Arizona.

“We modeled the impact of future climate on the habitat of the black grouse for the years 2041 to 2060 and 2081 to 2100 based on two carbon emission scenarios and modeled habitat loss due to recent fires of moderate and severe forest,” said Frey, who also serves as the curator of the NMSU Fish and Wildlife Museum on the Las Cruces campus.

The model predicts that black grouse populations will lose almost all of their high-quality habitat, regardless of timelines or climate scenarios by the end of the 21st century.

Frey and his former students predict that losses will be most rapid and severe in southern regions, such as the White Mountains and Pinaleño Mountains in Arizona and the Sacramento Mountains in New Mexico, where only moderate suitable habitat should survive.

The study also found that wildfires between 2000 and 2017 caused substantial loss of grouse habitat in southern regions, particularly in the Mogollon Mountains of New Mexico and adjacent regions of southwestern Mexico. New Mexico.

Catastrophic wildfires like the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire, which has burned more than 340,000 acres since April, continue to pose a significant threat to black grouse, Youtz said.

“Our finding that habitat loss due to wildfire can precede and exceed habitat loss due to climate change suggests that black grouse populations may become imperiled or extirpated faster than predicted by conventional climate models. “, Youtz said. “These impacts are likely to first affect populations at the trailing edge at the southern extent of the species’ geographic range, but will spread to more northern regions.”

Frey added that their model shows an “overriding conclusion that climate change will have a profound impact on the habitat of the dusky grouse in the American Southwest.”

Despite its challenges in southern regions, the dusky grouse in northern regions like the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in New Mexico and the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona have robust populations and could provide refuge from moderate to moderate climate change. the future, Frey said.

Frey added that immediate research and conservation action is needed to manage dusky grouse habitat for resilience and ensure the species’ long-term persistence in Arizona and New Mexico.

“Research on the genetic health, phylogeography and taxonomy of southwestern populations is needed to inform conservation, particularly to identify appropriate units for management, she said.

To read the study, visit https://www.ace-eco.org/vol17/iss1/art35/.

“Eye on Research” is provided by New Mexico State University. This week’s article was written by Carlos Andres López of Marketing and Communications. He can be reached at 575-646-1955 or [email protected].

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