The Topographic Signature of Ecosystem Climate Sensitivity in the Western United States

Zachary H. Hoylman, Kelsey G. Jencso, Jia Hu, Zachary A. Holden, Brady Allred, Solomon Dobrowski, Nathaniel Robinson, Justin T. Martin, David Affleck, Carl Seielstad

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    It has been suggested that hillslope topography can produce hydrologic refugia, sites where ecosystem productivity is relatively insensitive to climate variation. However, the ecological impacts and spatial distribution of these sites are poorly resolved across gradients in climate. We quantified the response of ecosystem net primary productivity to changes in the annual climatic water balance for 30 years using pixel-specific linear regression (30-m resolution) across the western United States. The standardized slopes of these models represent ecosystem climate sensitivity and provide a means to identify drought-resistant ecosystems. Productive and resistant ecosystems were most frequent in convergent hillslope positions, especially in semiarid climates. Ecosystems in divergent positions were moderately resistant to climate variability, but less productive relative to convergent positions. This topographic effect was significantly dampened in hygric and xeric climates. In aggregate, spatial patterns of ecosystem sensitivity can be implemented for regional planning to maximize conservation in landscapes more resistant to perturbations.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)14508-14520
    Number of pages13
    JournalGeophysical Research Letters
    Issue number24
    StatePublished - Dec 28 2019


    • climate
    • ecosystem sensitivity
    • ecosystems
    • hydrology
    • net primary productivity
    • topography


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