SNAPP TEAM:Ecological Drought
How does incorporating ecological sensitivity into drought relief planning improve longer term outcomes for people and nature?

As global temperatures continue to rise, drought intensity and frequency in North America are expected to increase, leading to a wide range of social and ecological impacts. To ensure that nature and its associated benefits are sufficiently incorporated into future drought planning, this team is evaluating ecological impacts of reduced water availability and the resulting consequences for both natural and human communities.


OUR APPROACH: This group is synthesizing and connecting information on the impacts of drought on both human and natural systems to highlight opportunities to mitigate drought risks.

Team Status: COMPLETED
Team Critical Challenge: Climate Resilience

Reframing the Drought Conversation

The team defines ecological drought as “an episodic deficit in water availability that drives ecosystems beyond thresholds of vulnerability, impacts ecosystem services, and triggers feedbacks in natural and/or human systems” (Crausbay, 2017). With this definition in mind, the team created an ecological drought vulnerability framework to help drought researchers, resource managers, and decision-makers understand: 1) both drought exposure and drought sensitivity play a role in ecosystem vulnerability, and each is controlled by natural and human processes, 2) ecological drought’s impacts are transferred to human communities via ecosystem services, and 3) knowing the specific drivers of vulnerability can lead to effective preparedness strategies to reduce ecological drought vulnerability in the future.



“It is time for ecosystems to have a seat at the drought decision-making table, with the realization that an investment in water for nature may also be an investment in water for people. A more holistic planning and research approach that includes ecological drought means both people and nature will be better prepared for the rising risk of drought.”

-Shelley Crausbay, Team member

Key Products
Defining ecological drought for the 21st century

In this peer-reviewed paper in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, the team defines “ecological drought” and proposes a drought vulnerability framework to identify the drought risks that different communities might face.

Adapting resource management to address drought

This SNAPP team hosted a symposium at the National Adaptation Forum that focused on sharing the results of their research thus far.

Better accounting for non-human water needs in drought planning

This analysis revealed that drought planning does not represent enough non-human factors, even among institutions that include ecological measures of fisheries and streamflow. Water management case studies were selected in Western Montana.

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Shawn Carter
US Geological Survey (USGS)
Molly Cross
Wildlife Conservation Society
Kimberly Hall
The Nature Conservancy
Deborah Bathke
University of Nebraska & National Drought Mitigation Center
Julio Betancourt
US Geological Survey (USGS)
Steve Colt
Alaska Pacific University
Shelley Crausbay
University of California, Santa Barbara
Amanda Cravens
US Geological Survey
Melinda Dalton
US Geological Survey (USGS)
Jason Dunham
US Geological Survey (USGS)
Lauren Hay
US Geological Survey (USGS)
Mike Hayes
University of Nebraska & National Drought Mitigation Center
Jamie McEvoy
Montana State University
Chad McNutt
National Integrated Drought Information System
Keith Nislow
US Forest Service
Nejem Raheem
Emerson College
Aaron Ramirez
University of California, Santa Barbara
Todd Sanford
Climate Central
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