Mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata Nutt. ssp. vaseyana) covers large areas in arid regions of western North America. Climate-change models predict a decrease in the range of sagebrush, but few studies have examined details of predicted changes on sagebrush growth and the potential impacts of these changes on the community. We analyzed effects of temperature, precipitation, and snow depth on sagebrush annual ring width for 1969 to 2007 in the Gunnison Basin of Colorado. Temperature at all times of year except winter had negative correlations with ring widths; summer temperature had the strongest negative relationship. Ring widths correlated positively with precipitation in various seasons except summer; winter precipitation had the strongest relationship with growth. Maximum snow depth also correlated positively and strongly with ring width. Multiple regressions showed that summer temperature and either winter precipitation or maximum snow depth, which recharges deeper soil horizons, are both important in controlling growth. Overall, water stress and perhaps especially maximum snow depth appear to limit growth of this species. With predicted increases in temperature and probable reduced snow depth, sagebrush growth rates are likely to decrease. If so, sagebrush populations and cover may decline, which may have substantial effects on community composition and carbon balance.
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Vol. 69 • No. 4