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Long Term Ecological Research
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Jornada Basin LTER

The Jornada Basin LTER will continue its research for another six years (through October 2018) thanks to continued funding by the National Science Foundation 

New Proposal - LTER: Long-Term Research at the Jornada Basin (LTER-VI)

Project Summary: Chihuahuan Desert landscapes exemplify the ecological conditions, vulnerability, and management challenges in arid and semi-arid regions around the world. The goal of the Jornada Basin Long Term Ecological Research program (JRN LTER) established in 1982 is to understand and quantify the key factors and processes controlling ecosystem dynamics and patterns in Chihuahuan Desert landscapes. In collaboration with the Jornada Experimental Range (USDA ARS), studies initiated in 1915 have been incorporated into the JRN LTER program. Previous research focused on desertification, a state change from perennial grasslands to woody plant dominance that occurs globally. Based on findings from growing long-term databases, the breadth of studies was expanded to include four additional state changes that occur in dry land systems worldwide: (1) a reversal to grassland states, (2) transitions among different states dominated by woody plants, (3) invasion by non-native grasses leading to novel states, and (4) transitions to human-dominated states. Processes of interest include water mediated plant-soil feedbacks, patch-scale contagion, landscape context, and time lags that are manifested as nonlinear dynamics and threshold behavior. The overall goal of Jornada LTER-VI (2012-2018) is to understand and quantify the mechanisms that generate alternative natural and human-dominated states in dry land ecosystems, and to predict future states and their consequences for the provisioning of ecosystem services. A modified conceptual framework and integrated research plan in LTER-VI will be used to: (1) test specific elements by coupling existing long-term studies of patterns with new experiments aimed at elucidating processes, (2) integrate data from long-term studies in novel ways to address new questions, both at the JRN and in the surrounding region, and (3) forecast alternative future landscapes and consequences for ecosystem services under a changing environment. The proposed research is organized around two major geomorphic units that characterize the Chihuahuan Desert, and that contain on-going long-term studies and a sensor network. Long-term studies will be combined with new mechanistic experiments designed to identify dominant processes and drivers with a focus on pattern-process relationships that transcend scales. The generality of this framework will be assessed with cross-site and regional studies. Simulation modeling will be used to synthesize and integrate data, both to understand current patterns and to predict future dynamics. New socio-economic studies and scenarios based on the Ecosystem Millennium Assessment will place Jornada research into a broader socio-economic-ecologic context. Proposed research will result in five major products: (1) new understanding of state changes, in particular in drylands, that lead to theory development, testable hypotheses, and new experiments; (2) accessible data and visualization tools applicable at multiple scales; (3) explanatory and predictive relationships between drivers, patterns, and processes that can be used to (4) develop scenarios of alternative human- and natural-dominated states with assessments of their impacts on ecosystem services; and (5) usable information transfer to a broad audience including K-12 students and teachers, and NGO and government
agency land resource managers.


The Jornada Basin Long Term Ecological Research program, in collaboration with the USDA ARS Jornada Experimental Range, studies the causes and consequences of desertification: the broad scale expansion of woody plants into grasslands that results in more "desert like" conditions.  We are interested in spatial and temporal variation in desertification dynamics, and how historic legacies, the geomorphic template, transport vectors (wind, water, animals), and environmental drivers (climate, land use, disturbance) interact with the patch structure of the vegetation to determine past, present, and future ecosystem dynamics across scales.

Our study site is located in the northern Chihuahuan Desert, approximately 25 km northeast of Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA (+32.5 N, -106.8 W, elevation 1188 m). Annual precipitation is 24 cm and maximum temperatures average 13 C in January and 36 C in June. Our study site includes the 78,000 ha Jornada Experimental Range operated by the USDA Agricultural Research Service, and the 22,000 ha Chihuahuan Desert Rangeland Research Center (CDRRC) operated by New Mexico State University. The Jornada Basin LTER project was established in 1982, and is administered by New Mexico State University. This site is a member of the LTER Network, one of more than 25 long term sites funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.


Perennial grass cover through time in uplands and lowlands

Frequency of grass Aristida spp. through time

Click here to see all long term graphs  


TIPPING POINTS Jornada scientists discovered the mechanisms by which grasslands, shrublands, and other ecosystems cross 'tipping points,' or thresholds in which dramatic and rapid changes can occur. A better understanding of these thresholds is paramount to management and protection of grasslands and other ecosystems. Read more

HETEROGENEITY AND NONEQUILIBRIUM DYNAMICS  Jornada scientists discovered that variability in ecosystem responses in both time and space is more characteristic of dry lands than average conditions. New research approaches provide insights into old problems, including inconsistent responses through time, persistent and variable patterns in space, and emergent behavior across scales. Read more

ACCESSIBLE ECOLOGY Jornada scientists have created tools and programs to make scientific results readily available to a variety of stakeholders, including land managers, scientists and teachers. Outputs include web-based access to scientific data, methods to monitor changes in soils and vegetation around the world, and training for K-12 students and teachers. Read more

EXPANDING DESERTS Desertification is a global problem that reduces plant productivity, biodiversity, air and soil quality, and water availability. JORNADA scientists developed an integrated understanding of consequences of desertification in arid ecosystems, including loss of ecosystem services. Read more

ABILITY TO RESTOREJornada studies initiated in the early 1900s reveal how the change from productive, diverse perennial grasses to shrublands on degraded soils is difficult, but not impossible, to reverse. With over 1.25 billion people living in dry land areas, it is critical to understand the restoration potential of degraded systems.  Read more


Disclaimer and Legal Statement: This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant number DEB-0618210. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or New Mexico State University.