A study led by Colorado State University Professor Melinda Smith, involving 173 researchers, found that the shortgrass prairies of eastern Colorado are at risk of die-off due to increasingly common extreme droughts. The study, published in the Journal of the Academy of Sciences, modeled the impact of extreme droughts on different grass and shrublands across the globe. The researchers found that the shortgrass prairies in Colorado are at greater risk due to their existence in drier environments. The study recreated extreme drought conditions in different locations around the world and found that the shortgrass prairies were the most vulnerable to extreme drought, while tallgrass prairies in eastern Kansas were more resistant due to their wetter climate.
The loss of plant growth in extreme droughts was 60% greater than previously thought, which has significant implications for forecasting the impacts of climate change. The researchers emphasized the importance of incorporating extreme drought conditions into the management of grasslands, especially those used for livestock grazing. They recommended proactive practices and active restoration of grasslands after extreme drought events to help them recover more quickly. The study revealed the need for important priorities in managing grasslands in a drier world, and emphasized the importance of practices to maintain the important industry of livestock grazing.