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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Research Project: A Systems Approach to Restoring Invaded Sagebrush Steppe

Location: Range and Meadow Forage Management Research

Project Number: 2070-22000-005-00-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Jul 21, 2015
End Date: Jul 20, 2020

Objective:
The first and primary research goal of this project is to improve our systems approach to restoration for annual grass management in the sagebrush steppe of North America. In 2013, we provided a systems approach that advances ecological restoration beyond conceptual and phenomenological descriptions to quantitative process-based models that can be used to address specific applied questions (James et al. 2013a). Our systems approach uses life histories to identify transitions important to seedling establishment and maturation. It links those transitions to ecological processes directing establishment and management practices that can favorably impact those processes. Our technology transfer goal is to use the research results for developing tools aimed at assisting land managers in selecting seeds based on their quality, guidelines for determining when and what species to broadcast during restoration, and guidelines on assessing and managing defoliation of newly emerged seedlings at risk to herbivory. Specifically, during the next five years we will focus on the following objectives: Objective 1: Enhance rangeland restoration processes by improving the establishment of seedlings of desirable plant species (such as increasing seed quality and seedling survival), acquiring and implementing basic knowledge to match naturally occurring physical safe-sites with seed traits, identifying and quantifying the effects of herbivory on seedling survivorship, and developing threshold guidelines for mitigation. Sub-objective 1A: Improve rangeland restoration success by enhancing seed quality and emergence survival of desired restoration species and develop simple seed quality selection criteria. Sub-objective 1B: Develop the basic knowledge to match naturally occurring physical safesites with seed traits to maximize seedling establishment during restoration. Sub-objective 1C: Identify and quantify the effects of herbivory on seedling survivorship to develop threshold guidelines for mitigation during restoration. Objective 2: Integrate research into an ecological systems approach to restoration with current cost/benefit models and link to site-specific best management practices. Sub-objective 2A: Develop decision-support tools for 1) choosing seeds based on quality characteristics, 2) matching seed size, number, and physical safe-site availability during restoration, and 3) identifying and managing risk to seedlings associated with herbivory. Sub-objective 2B: Inform and update our systems approach to include important aspects of seed quality, maximizing physical safe-site capture, and minimizing seedlings risk of herbivory and link this model with existing cost/benefit models.

Approach:
Rangelands cover nearly one-half of the earths land surface and provide life sustaining goods and services to about one-third of the global population. Low and variable rainfall combined with often infertile soil make the world’s rangelands highly susceptible to degradation, invasion, and global climate change (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005). The inability to establish healthy plant communities is cited by stakeholders as the single largest barrier to implementing restoration and turning the tide against the hundreds of thousands of hectares of sagebrush steppe lost to invasive plants each year. Despite over a century of research, rangeland science lacks a comprehensive understanding of the ecological processes influencing seedling establishment. The goal of this project is to improve restoration for annual grass management in the sagebrush steppe of North America. Using a series of field and laboratory tests, our first study attempts to improve rangeland restoration success by enhancing seed quality and emergence survival of desired restoration species and develop simple seed quality selection criteria. Our second study is aimed at developing the basic knowledge to match naturally occurring physical safe-sites with seed traits to maximize seedling establishment during restoration. Third, we plan to identify and quantify the effects of herbivory on seedling survivorship to develop threshold guidelines for successful restoration. Finally, we will integrate this research into an ecological systems approach to restoration with current cost/benefit models.

Last Modified: 09/21/2017
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