Anthropogenic and natural disturbances represent a serious threat to natural ecosystems dominated by big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata). Conservation efforts aim to restore original species composition and prevent the invasion of undesirable species. In order to restore the historic plant communities, we need a clear understanding of how species compositions are distributed along environmental gradients. Species ordination is a process of placing plant species along environmental gradients. This study was conducted in Rich County, Utah, where substantial changes in species composition have been documented in recent years. Field data, literature review, multivariate analyzes, GIS and remote sensing techniques, and expert knowledge were used to define environmental variables and their respective suitability ranges of where shrub species may occur along this area. Ordination and CART- statistical analyzes were used to estimate and predict suitability of shrub species along environmental gradients. GIS procedures were used to spatially predict species distribution. Field data and the Southwest Regional Gap Analysis Project data provided useful information to build the model and 20 percent of field data was withheld to cross-validate the findings. Final results showed that the shrub species distribution in the rangelands of Northern Utah, specifically Rich County, might be driven by precipitation and temperature gradients -influenced greatly by elevation. Slope contributing area, NDVI, and solar radiation were statistically significant factors explaining shrub distribution. To our perception, soil moisture availability might be the most explanatory variable behind these findings. In the model validation, the Kappa coefficient was K = 61.3 percent and the overall model accuracy was 74 percent. The location of species distribution areas, in the final map, can be useful to managers in order to define where resources might be allocated to preserve and restore these native rangeland ecosystems.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/leila_shultz/2/