Trends in landscape and vegetation change and implications for the Santa Cruz Watershed

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Monitoring and characterizing the interactive effects of land use and climate on land surface processes is a primary focus of land change science, and of particular concern in arid Wells Distribution in Shallow Groundwater Areas Pumping Trends Increase Streamflow Extent Declines 27 environments where both landscapes and livelihoods can be impacted by short-term climate variability. Using a multi-observational approach to land-change analysis that included landownership data as a proxy for land-use practices, multitemporal land-cover maps, and repeat photography dating to the late 19th century, we examine changing spatial and temporal distributions of two vegetation types with high conservation value in the southwestern United States: grasslands and riparian vegetation. Our study area is the bi-national Santa Cruz Watershed, a topographically complex watershed that straddles the Sonoran Desert and the Madrean Archipelago Ecoregions. In this presentation we focus on historical changes in vegetation and land use in grasslands and riparian areas of the Madrean Ecoregion (San Raphael Valley, Cienega Creek, Sonoita), and compare changes in these areas to changes in the warmer and drier Sonoran Ecoregion. Analysis of historical photography confirms major 20th century vegetation shifts documented in other research: woody plant encroachment, desertification of grasslands, and changing riparian and xeroriparian vegetation occurred in both ecoregions following human settlement. However, vegetation changes over the past decade appear to be more subtle and some of the past trajectories appear to be reversing; most notable are recent mesquite declines in xeroriparian and upland areas, and changes from shrubland to grassland area in the Madrean ecoregion. Land cover changes were temporally variable, reflecting broad climate changes. The most dynamic cover changes occurred during the period from 1989 to 1999, a period with two intense droughts. The degree of vegetation change driven by climate was related to topographic setting: vegetation declines were greater per unit area in the lower elevation Sonoran ecoregion where temperatures are higher and precipitation lower than in the Madrean. Fine-scale changes within these broad climate patterns were likely the result of land use practices: declines were highest on state lands (grazing) and increases highest on private ranches and some federal lands (active mesquite removal and watershed restoration).

Additional publication details

Publication type Book
Publication Subtype Conference publication
Title Trends in landscape and vegetation change and implications for the Santa Cruz Watershed
Year Published 2013
Language English
Contributing office(s) Western Geographic Science Center
Description 3 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Conference publication
Larger Work Title Proceedings of the Science on the Sonoita Plain Symposium
First page 26
Last page 28
Conference Title Science on the Sonoita Plain Symposium 2013
Conference Location Elgin, AZ
Conference Date June 8, 2013
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N