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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: IMPROVED PLANT GENETIC RESOURCES FOR PASTURES AND RANGELANDS IN THE TEMPERATE SEMIARID REGIONS OF THE WESTERN U.S.

Location: Forage and Range Research

Title: Linking plant spatitial patterns and ecological processes in grazed Great Basin plant communities

Authors
item Rayburn, Andrew -
item Monaco, Thomas

Submitted to: Rangeland Ecology and Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: February 12, 2011
Publication Date: April 27, 2011
Citation: Rayburn, A.P., Monaco, T.A. 2011. Linking plant spatitial patterns and ecological processes in grazed Great Basin plant communities. Rangeland Ecology and Management 64:276-282.

Interpretive Summary: Observational studies of plant spatial patterns are common but are often critized for lacking a temporal component and for their inability to differentiate the effect of different environments and plant communities on plant spatial patterns. We addressed these criticisms in an observational study of Great Basin shrub-steppe communities that have been converted to a managed grazing system of planted crested wheatgrass. We used GPS to quantify crested wheatgrass spatial patterns along stands that differed only in time since planting (9-57 yr), as well as in a 57-yr-old grazing exclosure to examine pattern formations in the absence of grazing. Our results suggest that interference acts over finer spatial and temporal scales than grazing in structuring these stands, reinforcing the importance of interference in semiarid communities. Analysis of exclosure data suggests that, in the absence of grazing, crested wheatgrass stands organize into a statistically regular pattern when primarily influenced by interference. In the presence of prolonged grazing, crested wheatgrass stands become more heterogeneous over time, likely a result of seedling mortality via disturbance by cattle.

Technical Abstract: Observational studies of plant spatial patterns are comon but are often criticized for lacing a temporal component and for their inability to disentangle the effect of multiple community-structuring processes on plant spatial patterns. We addressed these criticisms in an observational study of Great Basin shrub-steppe communities that have been converted to a managed grazing system of planted crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum [L.] Gaertn.) stands. We hypothesized that intraspecific interference and livestock grazing were important community-structuring processes that would leave unique spatiotemporal signatures. We used a survey-grade global positioning system to quantify crested wheatgrass spatial patterns along a chronosequence of stands that differed only in time since planting (9-57 yr), as well as in a 57-yr-old grazing exclosure to examine pattern formation in the absence of grazing. Three replicate survey plots were established in each stand, and a total of 6197 grasses were marked with a spatial error of <2cm. The data were analyzed using L-statistics in program R, and hypothesis testing was conducted using Monte Carlo simulation procedures. We detected fine-scale regularity, frequently considered a sign of interference via resource competition, in all stands including the exclosure. Coarser-scale aggregation, which we attributed to the effects of prolonged grazing disturbance, was only detected in the oldest grazed stand. Our results suggest that interference acts over finer spatial and temporal scales than grazing in structuring these stands, reinforcing the importance of interference in semiarid communities. Analysis of exclosure data suggests that, in the absence of grazing, crested wheatgrass stands organize into a statistically regular pattern when primarily influenced by interference. In the presence of prolonged grazing, crested wheatgrass stands become more heterogeneous over time, likely a result of seedling mortality via disturbance by cattle.

Last Modified: 8/29/2014
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