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ARS Home » Plains Area » Miles City, Montana » Range and Livestock Research » Research » Research Project #424156

Research Project: Adaptive Rangeland Management of Livestock Grazing, Disturbance, and Climatic Variation

Location: Range and Livestock Research

2016 Annual Report

1a. Objectives (from AD-416):
Objective 1: Develop management strategies to improve rangeland cattle production and ecological stability in the northern Great Plains through effective use of rangeland forage resources, precision supplementation, and livestock with greater adaptability to climatic, physiological, and nutritional stress. Sub-objective 1.1 Determine effects of dormant rangeland forage utilization on heifer development, plant productivity, and species composition. Sub-objective 1.2 Develop nutritional management for post-weaning heifer development to complement annual and weather-driven fluctuations in forage availability and quality. Sub-objective 1.3 Estimate effects of vegetation, climate, and environmental variables on cattle growth. Sub-objective 1.4 Develop mineral supplement and water amendment strategies to ameliorate weather-induced changes in naturally occurring rangeland stock water quality. Sub-objective 1.5 Develop a molecular barcode system for northern mixed-grass prairie plant species that will enable future description of plants consumed by livestock on rangelands. Objective 2: Develop management strategies integrating grazing, fire, and chemical practices to restore rangelands degraded by weeds and prevent weed invasions in the northern Great Plains. Sub-objective 2.1 Develop fire and herbicide treatment combinations to reduce annual brome abundance in rangelands. Sub-objective 2.2 Develop effective practices to rehabilitate rangeland riverine sites that have been mechanically and chemically treated to eradicate Russian olive. Sub-objective 2.3 Identify and develop effective reclamation strategies for converting coal mining lands back to livestock grazing lands. Sub-objective 2.4 Determine physiological traits allowing perennial seedlings to use dormancy to survive unfavorable environmental conditions. Objective 3: Develop adaptive strategies for managing the interacting effects of livestock grazing, fire, and climatic variation on northern Great Plains rangelands to increase the stability of livestock production while maintaining ecosystem health. Sub-objective 3.1 Quantify grazing season and intensity effects on plant community composition and productivity. Sub-objective 3.2 Quantify interacting effects of climate with defoliation timing and intensity on rangeland stability. Sub-objective 3.3 Determine rangeland community response to autumn defoliation intensity. Sub-objective 3.4 Determine post-fire weather effects on plant community response to summer fire. Sub-objective 3.5 Determine the effect of mycorrhizal fungi and different levels of simulated grazing on plant community composition and measures of soil health. Sub-objective 3.6 Determine plant and soil community response to fire return interval and seasonality.

1b. Approach (from AD-416):
Sustainability of rangeland production hinges on the stability of plant communities because changes in species composition, forage production, and forage quality fundamentally affect the animal community. The primary forces of change in rangelands are weather, grazing, alien plants, and fire. This project is designed to improve ecological sustainability and rangeland production by addressing opportunities for increased efficiency of livestock nutrient conversion, mechanisms affecting restoration success, and interacting effects of disturbances with weather and climate. We propose improved efficiency of nutrient conversion from dormant rangeland forages is among the most viable options for increasing animal production and minimizing effects on plant communities. We will address this proposition through a series of experiments evaluating plant and animal responses to dormant-season utilization and supplementation strategies. Rangeland restoration methods will be evaluated for direct weed control and mechanisms controlling successful establishment of desirable species. Water manipulations will be included in multiple experiments to determine weather and long-term climate effects because precipitation is the primary controlling factor for plant productivity and community composition. Experiments will be integrated across objectives to determine interacting effects of precipitation, grazing, weeds, and fire on soil and plant communities (production, species composition, diversity, propagation, survival) and cattle (weight gain, reproductive performance, diet quality, diet selection). Understanding the mechanisms that control rangeland stability and animal responses to alterations in plant communities will assist land managers and livestock producers in improving rangeland integrity and efficiency of livestock production. Results will also provide scientists greater understanding of the complex interacting forces on rangelands.

3. Progress Report:
Objective 1. Phenotypic and biomass data continue to be collected to assess the impact of fall (dormant season) grazing on annual forage production and how strategic supplementation impacts heifer development. Verification of data quality has been completed for modeling climate effects on cattle growth. Development of a molecular barcode system has shifted to a focus on quantifying the precision of the existing best DNA barcode with simulated diets and testing whether two approaches yield correction factors that appreciably improve the quality of the data relative to raw DNA sequence data results. Constructed 36 simulated rangeland diet samples (4-12 spp.) with varying compositional similarity. Diet samples were also degraded by in-vitro ruminant digestion and grasshoppers. We also collected samples of ~300 plant species to enable producing the necessary barcode library. A 2nd method for devising a correction factor to improve DNA sequencing results was also devised and incorporated. Objective 2. The fire x herbicide experiment for controlling annual brome is being repeated due to low brome abundance and first herbicide treatment was applied. Monitoring of Russian olive control effects on plants, nutrients and animals continued. Treatments for manipulative experiments on mine reclamation were completed. Objective 3. Grazing intensity x season experiments were treated for the third year as were mechanical defoliation treatments and rainout shelters were deployed a second year manipulating precipitation. Soil aggregate data from this study has been analyzed is the report is being prepared. Third year response data were collected and treatments repeated for fall defoliation experiment. Post-fire weather effects were assessed for the second year and sites are prepared for the next year of treatment. Fungicide and defoliation treatments were continued to determine mycorrhizal effects on plant and soil communities and manuscripts are in preparation. Season and frequency of fire treatments were applied and vegetation measurements were taken. Data to date have been summarized for the International Fire Ecology and Management Congress and the International Rangeland Congress.

4. Accomplishments

Review Publications
Reinhart, K.O., Nichols, K.A., Petersen, M.K., Vermeire, L.T. 2015. Soil aggregates stability was an uncertain predictor of ecosystem functioning in a temperate and semiarid grassland. Ecological Applications. 6(11):238. doi:10/1890/ES15-00056.1.

Branson, D.H., Vermeire, L.T. 2016. Grasshopper responses to fire and postfire grazing in the northern Great Plains vary among species. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 169(2):144-149. doi:10.1016/j.rama.2015.10.005.

Chu, C., Kleinhesselink, A., Havstad, K.M., McClaran, M., Peters, D.C., Vermeire, L.T., Wei, H., Adler, P. 2016. Direct effects dominate responses to climate perturbations in grassland plant communities. Nature Communications. 7:11766.

Reinhart, K.O., Vermeire, L.T. 2016. Soil aggregate stability and grassland productivity associations in a northern mixed-grass prairie. PLoS One. 11(7):e0160262. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0160262.

Reinhart, K.O., Dangi, S.R., Vermeire, L.T. 2016. The effect of fire intensity, nutrients, soil microbes, and spatial distance on grassland productivity. Plant and Soil. 409:203-216 doi:10.1007/s11104-016-2957-3.

Hierro, J.L., Khetsuriani, L., Andonian, K., Eren, O., Villarreal, D., Janoian, G., Reinhart, K.O., Callaway, R.M. 2016. Geographic variation in the effects of disturbance, fungi, insects, and resilience on the abundance of a globally distributed plant. Ecography. doi:10.1111/ecog.02633.

Rinella, M.J., Bellows, S.E. 2016. Evidence targeted grazing benefits to invaded rangelands can increase over extended time frames. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 69(3):169-172.

Rinella, M.J., Espeland, E.K., Moffatt, B. 2016. Studying long-term, large-scale grassland restoration outcomes to improve seeding methods and reveal knowledge gaps. Journal of Applied Ecology. 53(5):1565-1574. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12722.

Petersen, M.K., Muscha, J.M., Mulliniks, J.T., Roberts, A.J. 2016. Water temperature impacts water consumption by range cattle in winter. Journal of Animal Science. doi:10.2527/jas.2015-0155.