Wyoming Spring Creek: Vegetation and Climate Change Project

Throughout the past week, our class has been working on planning and conducting independent research projects. I chose to tackle the question of how climate change will affect the vegetation on Pitt’s Spring Creek Preserve. My overarching hypothesis is “if the changing climate of the southeastern Wyoming region leads to less snowpack accumulation, then the gully habitats on the Pitt property will transition to having less vegetation coverage, less biodiversity, smaller leaves, and inward curled leaves.” In order to answer this question, I conducted my field work based on a sub-question of “how might proximity to water from snowpack accumulation impact vegetation coverage, biodiversity, leaf size, and leaf curl?”

In order to study this in the field, I chose 5 gully sites on the Preserve. The gullies on the Preserve are the result of erosion due to melting snowpack, meaning the vegetation within them has more access to water than surrounding habitats. Within each gully, I surveyed the vegetation within nine Daubenmire frames (a 25×50 cm PVC frame). I measured out 50 meters, and at the 0 meter, 25 meter, and 50 meter marks, I surveyed three frames (one at the bottom of the gulley, one on the east facing slope, and one on the west facing slope). I decided to survey the east and west facing slopes because more snowmelt typically accumulates on east facing slopes due to snow coming in from the east and dropping, so I wanted to consider that factor in my research. I also subsequently surveyed frames at the 0 meter, 25 meter, and 50 meter mark in the drier areas upland of the gullies to see how less water affects the vegetation.

Within each frame, I estimated the percent coverage of vegetation, and I broke down the percent coverage into each species of plant I found. For each species within the frame, I measured the length and width of 10 leaves randomly selected from different parts of the plant. I then estimated the average inward curling of the leaves on each species on a scale of 0-4.

Ultimately, I hope to aggregate my data and analyze the comparisons between the different sections of vegetation I surveyed to come to a loose conclusion on how snowpack impacts vegetation. I want to then look at climate predictions for the southeastern Wyoming region and estimate what the communities I analyzed could potentially look like in the future if temperatures continue to increase and snowpack decreases.

Gully in the Spring Creek area; you can see the east facing slope on the left with heavy vegetation and the west facing slope on the right with less vegetation.

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