Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Wildland Resources

Committee Chair(s)

Thomas C. Edwards, Jr.


Thomas C. Edwards, Jr.


James A. MacMahon


Terry L. Sharik


Gretchen G. Moisen


Piñon and juniper tree species have species-specific climatic requirements, resulting in unique distributions and differential responses to climate change. Piñons and junipers co-dominate the arid woodlands of North America as groups with widespread hybridization. Two piñons, Pinus edulis; P. monophylla, and four junipers, Juniperus deppeana var. deppeana; J. monosperma; J. occidentalis; J. osteosperma, are endemic to the midlatitude interior west and form three groups of hybridizing sister species, P. edulis-P. monophylla; J. deppeana var. deppeana-J. monosperma; J. occidentalis-J. osteosperma. Recent droughts have caused widespread mortality among piñons, but have had less impact on junipers and indicate shifts in co-occurrence have already begun in response to global climate change. Within these groups hybridization likely plays an important role in such distribution changes.

The central objective of this thesis is to forecast the distributions of piñons and junipers endemic to the US under modeled climate change for the 21st century. Species distribution models are built with an emphasis placed on aligning the life cycle dynamics of the species within the temporal and spatial resolution of predictor variables, and within the modeling technique. Two concerns surrounding species distribution modeling are addressed. First, concerns regarding the extent to which species are at equilibrium with the current climate are addressed by incorporating dispersal into the model building process. Second, concerns regarding the potential role of hybridization between closely related species are addressed by building distribution models for each of the three sister species groups as well as the six component species.

Species distribution models exhibited individualistic responses to modeled climate change. Modeled areal loss was greater than gain for all species, which is reflected in changes of co-occurrence. Piñon-juniper richness is forecast to increase in the northern Colorado Plateau, eastern Great Basin, and Rocky Mountains. The sister-species models forecast greater areal gain, and less areal loss, along hybridization zones for P. edulis-P. monophylla and for J. occidentalis-J. osteosperma, but forecast greater areal loss along the periphery of the component species distributions. The sister-species model for J. deppeana var. deppeana-J. monosperma forecasts overall greater areal loss than the component species. In general, forecast changes in latitude and elevation are about one third of the changes inferred, from the fossil record, to have occurred following the transition to the current interglacial ~10,000 years ago.




This work made publicly available electronically on May 11, 2011.