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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Rangeland Soil Quality: Introduction (Rangeland Sheet 1)

item Herrick, Jeffrey
item Tugel, Arlene - USDA-NRCS
item Shaver, P - USDA-NRCS
item Pellant, M - USDI-BLM

Submitted to: Soil Quality Information Sheets
Publication Type: Government Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: May 1, 2001
Publication Date: May 1, 2001

Interpretive Summary: Interpretive summary not required for government publications.

Technical Abstract: Soil Quality Information Sheets for rangelands describe soil properties that change in response to management and vegetation change. The sheets provide information related to a number of indicators used in rangeland health assessments. They support rangeland inventories and monitoring and provide possible management strategies for planning purposes. The introduction defines rangeland, rangeland health, soil, soil quality and explains how rangeland health and soil quality are interdependent. Soil quality affects: plant production, reproduction, and mortality; erosion; water yields and water quality; wildlife habitat; carbon sequestration; vegetation changes; establishment and growth of invasive plants; and rangeland health. Rangeland health is characterized by the functioning of both the soil and the plant communities. The capacity of the soil to function affects ecological processes, including the capture, storage, and redistribution of water; the growth of plants; and the cycling of plant nutrients. For example, increased physical crusting decreases the infiltration capacity of the soil and thus the amount of water available to plants. As the availability of water decreases, plant production declines, some plant species may disappear, and the less desirable species may increase in abundance. Changes in vegetation may precede or follow changes in soil properties and processes. Significant shifts in vegetation generally are associated with changes in soil properties and processes and/or the redistribution of soil resources across the landscape. In some cases, such as accelerated erosion resulting in a change in the soil profile, this shift may be irreversible, while in others recovery is possible. Ecological processes on rangeland are evaluated with soil and vegetation indicators. Evaluations made through assessment and monitoring provide information about the functional status of soil and rangeland. Soil quality indicators are properties that change in response to management, climate, or both and reflect the current functional status. Functions include maintaining soil and site stability; distributing, storing, and supplying water and plant nutrients; and maintaining a healthy plant. Soil quality indicators are used to increase the value and accuracy of rangeland assessments and trend analysis. Assessments help to identify areas where problems occur and areas of special interest. Land managers can use this information and other inventory and monitoring data to make management decisions, which, in turn, affect soil quality. When assessments or comparisons are made, the rangeland ecological site description is used as the standard. For the soils associated with a given ecological site, the properties that change in response to management or climate are used as indicators of change. Tracking trends in the functional status of the soil and the plant community helps to determine the success of the management practices or the need for additional management changes or adjustments. Regular measurement of soil quality indictors at the same location can detect changes over seasons or years and provide early warning of future vegetation changes.

Last Modified: 4/22/2015
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