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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Range Management Research

2012 Annual Report

1a. Objectives (from AD-416):
The goal of the research unit based at the Jornada Experimental Range (JER) is to develop ecologically based technologies for monitoring, remediation, and grazing management in desert environments. In order to achieve this goal, our overall research objective is to determine how biological (plant, animal, microbial), soil, and geomorphological processes interact across multiple spatial and temporal scales to affect soil development, soil stability, nutrient and water retention and acquisition, plant establishment and survival, and animal foraging behavior. Our ecologically based management technologies will be built from a knowledge of these processes. We will accomplish this objective by integrating short- and long-term experiments with a suite of tools (simulation modeling, geographic information systems [GIS], and remote sensing) to extrapolate information across spatial scales from individual plants to landscapes. Such an approach will enable us to accomplish four specific objectives and associated products: 1. Develop an integrated assessment and monitoring approach for vegetation structure and composition, soil stability, watershed function, and biotic integrity of spatially and temporally heterogeneous rangelands at landscape, watershed, and regional scales. 2. Identify key plant and soil processes, and environmental factors, such as landscape position, land use history, and climate, that influence the potential for remediation success. 3. Develop adaptive strategies for livestock management across multiple scales based on animal foraging behavior. 4. Predict responses of ecosystem dynamics and livestock distribution across time and space to changes in climate and other management-dependent and -independent drivers, and develop an integrated management, monitoring, and knowledge toolbox that can be easily applied by individuals with a range of management experience, from minimal to extensive.

1b. Approach (from AD-416):
We will build upon information collected since 1912, complemented with ongoing and new research, to address our objectives. We will integrate short- and long-term data sets with simulation modeling, geographic information systems, and remote sensing tools. Our approach will combine short-term experiments to test specific hypotheses with synthetic experiments requiring a more complex integration of ecosystem components and drivers. Objective 1 is shared among numerous collaborators where we are evaluating ground-based and remotely sensed indicators of ecosystem properties for use at multiple-spatial scales for effectiveness in monitoring resource conditions. Objective 2 is addressed by studies to identify areas within landscapes where stimulation of key processes will generate recovery of desired functions or control of undesired species. Objective 3 is addressed by (a) developing techniques that control animal movements on rangelands, (b) rapidly identifying botanical composition of livestock diets, and (c) identifying cattle breeds adapted to nutritional forage and environmental conditions of deserts. Objective 4 is shared by the National Science Foundation Long-Term Ecological Research project at the Jornada. Experimentation involves long-term studies of the effects of disturbances on ecosystem properties. For example, we have well-established studies that quantify pattern and control of primary productivity.

3. Progress Report:
We made significant progress in the development of management and monitoring strategies and protocols for conserving rangeland resources. We developed and improved state and transition models, ground-based indicators, and remote sensing technologies that are currently being used by land managers and federal agencies to monitor rangeland status and change (Objective 1). A web-accessible database format was developed for state-and-transition models that improved the accuracy and usefulness of state-and-transition models to a variety of rangeland users. Rangeland health monitoring indicators and protocols developed and standardized by the Jornada were formally adopted by the BLM. Standardization of these monitoring methods improves data collection efficiency and consistency for policy-makers and land managers. Our Unmanned Aircraft System for remotely sensing and monitoring vegetation change was modified to increase instrumentation payload by 10 fold. We made progress in quantifying key factors involved in remediation success (Objective 2). Experiments were implemented to monitor the effectiveness of brush management treatments on different soils and landscape contexts at the spatial scale of management practices as applied. This research will improve our ability to evaluate conservation practices for restoration of public rangelands. Also, effect of ecological site was examined in a long-term soil surface disturbance experiment to quantify soil effects on resistance and resilience. Results showed that ecological sites vary in sensitivity to disturbance. These findings are currently being used to guide management of military training activities. Progress was achieved in assessing animal behavior and alternative management strategies (Objective 3). Management strategies for increased shrub use by livestock were evaluated. Also, animal behavior with regard to spatial and temporal use of landscapes was examined. Animals fitted with GPS electronics allowed for accurate characterization of behaviors that can improve animal management and timing of forage use. Progress was also made in predicting responses of vegetation to environmental change (Objective 4). Simulation modeling of vegetation dynamics under different precipitation regimes showed that grass seedling establishment was related to amount of rainfall and number of consecutive wet years. Results will provide guidance for determining locations and conditions most effective for grass remediation studies. Progress was also made in developing a range management toolbox (Objective 4B). A 'journal map' feature that allows users to use geospatial search tools to identify journal articles from specific regions was added to the toolbox. The toolbox is widely used by land managers worldwide.

4. Accomplishments
1. Improved protocols for state-and-transition model development. State and transition models are being produced to house information on land management options, but models are typically weakly supported by data and of limited use. Plant-soil inventory data and literature gathered or collated in New Mexico, Montana, Argentina, and Mongolia were examined by ARS researchers at Las Cruces, New Mexico, to develop quantitative and synthetic model building approaches, trainings were delivered to ecological site description developers in the U.S. and abroad, and a web-accessible database format for production and display of state-and-transition models was developed. These models are being applied to guide management on millions of acres of rangeland on three continents.

2. Development and calibration of ground-based indicators of ecosystem processes. Standardization of rangeland monitoring methods and indicators, including dynamic soil properties, is necessary to allow data to be shared and applied to policy and management within and among agencies, and to be used to parameterize wind and water erosion models. Rangeland health monitoring methods and indicators (including one for soil aggregate stability) were developed and standardized by ARS researchers at the Jornada for use by the NRCS and have now been formally adopted by the BLM for application to over 100 million acres of rangelands. The methods were calibrated and adapted, sampling guidance was developed, and multiple workshops, training sessions, and meetings were hosted to ensure accurate application of the methods. Consistent adoption of these standard methods will significantly reduce collection of redundant and uninterpretable data and provide policy-makers and managers and researchers with the data necessary to make evidence-based decisions at local to national scales.

3. Improved remote sensing technologies for monitoring vegetation patterns. High spatial and spectral resolution remote sensing technologies are needed to monitor, assess, and manage rangeland vegetation. ARS researchers at Las Cruces, New Mexico, recently improved our Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) by adding a larger airplane that resulted in a 10-fold increase in payload for instruments (from 3 to 30 lbs). In addition to the existing six-band multispectral camera, we added an upgraded digital camera. These modifications improved our ability to distinguish different vegetation types and vegetation change while retaining our high spatial resolution capability of 2 inches. Use of the UAS in conjunction with satellite monitoring via Landsat (49 ft. resolution) has improved our ability to monitor vegetation over much larger areas at reduced costs.

4. Applied monitoring tools for restoration of public lands. Restoration actions conducted by landowners and public lands agencies are seldom monitored, so their effectiveness is often unclear. Mapping and monitoring site selection protocols were developed and applied by ARS researchers at Las Cruces, New Mexico, in collaboration with the BLM. Monitoring featured pre-planned experiments to test effects of brush management in different soils and landscape contexts. Preliminary results from these analyses have shown that ecological sites influence treatment responses. This is a broadly applicable methodology for evaluating conservation practices and adaptive management.

5. Importance of landscape context for remediation success. Role of landscape context must be better understood to increase success rate of restoration efforts. Results of a long-term soil surface disturbance experiment and a comparative study using existing disturbances were analyzed by ARS researchers at Las Cruces, New Mexico, to quantify soil effects on resistance and resilience. Results showed that some gypsic soils, which are common in arid and semi-arid rangelands, are very sensitive to disturbance, while other soils are more resilient. Land managers are already using these findings to guide management of military training activities in desert environments. Results are currently being incorporated into state and transition models to guide management of other disturbances, including grazing.

6. Importance of landscape linkages for remediation success. Connections among different land units on a landscape need to be better understood to increase success rate of remediation efforts. Success of a pilot experiment designed to test the hypothesis that vegetation recovery can be initiated through the strategic installation of small barriers led to initiation of a larger scale experiment. Analyses of an additional year of data from the initial experiment indicate that these small barriers create conditions necessary for seedling establishment and survival. Land managers can use these findings to implement site-specific strategies to promote plant establishment and improve soil and water resource retention.

7. Biochemical principles of shrub use by livestock. Shrubs reduce available forage for livestock. Tarbush was used as a shrub model to examine the role of antiherbivory compounds such as terpenes in herbivory. Mixtures of monoterpenes (10-carbon terpenes) and sesquiterpenes (15-carbon terpenes) found on the leaf surface of tarbush were applied to alfalfa pellets and fed to sheep to determine if these combinations were deterrent. Monoterpene mixtures were not related to intake, but sesquiterpene mixtures tended to reduce intake by sheep. Sesquiterpenes may have potential for developing strategies to overcome low palatability of shrubs for ruminants.

8. Free-ranging cattle behavior. Spatial and temporal use of landscapes by foraging livestock is crucial information for producers in order to match animal location with areas of optimal nutrition. Animals instrumented with GPS electronics in which uncorrected fixes were recorded every second made it possible to accurately characterize stationary, foraging, and walking behaviors among free-ranging cattle on a continual spatial and temporal basis. Knowledge of animal activity can help managers predict spatial and temporal distribution of grazing livestock and facilitate proactive management by allowing producers to match timing of use with optimal forage conditions.

9. Simulation modeling of vegetation dynamics under varied conditions. Tools are needed to integrate our knowledge base in order to predict vegetation change. Long-term datasets were used to develop parameters for a model of vegetation dynamics (ECOTONE) that simulates multiple lifeforms (grasses, shrubs) for selected vegetation-soil locations across the Jornada under different precipitation regimes. Seed production of grasses was related to rainfall, and seedling establishment by species was related to both the amount of rainfall and the number of consecutive wet years. Results can be used to strategically determine locations and types of years best suited for grass remediation studies.

10. Integrated management, monitoring, and knowledge tool box. An integrated suite of improved tools is needed to facilitate the synthesis, integration, and application of new and existing research. A "landscape toolbox" website was updated and improved to include a number of new features, including a 'journal map' feature that allows users to use geospatial search tools to identify research articles from specific locations and regions. The toolbox is being regularly consulted by large numbers of individuals throughout the world, including many US land managers, increasing their ability to cost-effectively collect and interpret management-relevant data.

Review Publications
Peters, D.C. 2012. Grassland simulation models: A synthesis of current models and future challenges. In: Jorgensen, S.E., editor. Handbook of Ecological Models Used in Ecosystem and Environmental Management. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis Group. p. 175-201.

Bestelmeyer, B.T., Brown, J., Fuhlendorf, S., Fults, G., Wu, X. 2011. A Landscape Approach to Rangeland Conservation Practices. In: Briske, D.D., editor. Conservation Benefits of Rangeland Practices: Assessment, Recommendations, and Knowledge Gaps. Lawrence, Kansas: Allen Press. p. 337-370.

Peters, D.C., Yao, J., Sala, O.E., Anderson, J.P. 2012. Directional climate change and potential reversal of desertification in arid and semiarid ecosystems. Global Change Biology. 18:151-163.

Anderson, D.M., Fredrickson, E.L., Estell, R.E. 2012. Managing livestock using animal behavior: Mixed-species stocking and flerds. Animal. 1-11.

Knapp, C., Fernandez-Gimenez, M., Briske, D., Bestelmeyer, B.T., Wu, X. 2011. An assessment of state-and-transition models: Perceptions following two decades of development and implementation. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 64:598-606.

Williamson, J., Bestelmeyer, B.T., Peters, D.C. 2012. Spatiotemporal patterns of production can be used to detect state change across an arid landscape. Ecosystems. 15:34-47.

Laliberte, A.S., Browning, D.M., Rango, A. 2012. A comparison of three feature selection methods for object-based classification of sub-decimeter resolution UltraCam-L imagery. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation. 15:70-78.

Schwlich, G., Bestelmeyer, B.T., Bunning, S., Critchley, W., Herrick, J.E., Kellner, K., Lininger, H., Nachtergaele, F., Ritsema, C.J., Schuster, B. 2011. Experiences in monitoring and assessment of sustainable land management. Land Degradation and Development. 22:214-225.

Osuna-Avila, P., Barrow, J.R., Lucero, M.E., Aaltonen, R.E. 2012. Relationship between plant lipid bodies and fungal endophytes. Terra Latinoamerica. 30(1):39-45.

Bestelmeyer, B.T., Ellison, A., Fraser, W., Gorman, K., Holbrook, S., Laney, C., Ohman, M., Peters, D.C., Pillsbury, F.C., Rassweiler, A., Schmidt, R., Sharma, S. 2011. Analysis of abrupt transitions in ecological systems. Ecosphere. 2(12):Article 129.

Laliberte, A.S., Goforth, M., Steele, C.M., Rango, A. 2011. Multispectral remote sensing from unmanned aircraft: image processing workflows and applications for rangeland environments. Remote Sensing. 3(11):2529-2551.

Throop, H.L., Archer, S.R., Monger, H., Waltman, S. 2011. When bulk density methods matter: Implications for estimating soil organic carbon pools in rocky soils. Journal of Arid Environments. 77:66-71.

Klass, J., Peters, D.C., Trojan, J.M., Thomas, S.H. 2012. Nematodes as an indicator of plant-soil interactions associated with desertification. Applied Soil Ecology. 58:66-77.

Weems, S.L., Monger, H. 2012. Banded vegetation-dune development during the Medieval Warm Period and 20th century, Chihuahuan Desert, New Mexico, USA. Ecosphere. 3(3):Article 21.

Anderson, D.M., Estell, R.E. 2009. Behaviour - The keystone in optimizing free-ranging ungulate production. In: Squires, V.R., editor. Range and Animal Scinces and Resources Management. Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS), Developed under the Auspices of the UNESCO, Eolss Publishers, Oxford, UK.

Peters, D.C., Bestelmeyer, B.T., Knapp, A.K. 2011. Perspectives on global change theory. In: Scheiner, S.M., Willig, M.R., editors. The Theory of Ecology. Chicago, ILL: Univesity of Chicago Press. p. 261-281.

Rango, A., Havstad, K.M., Estell, R.E. 2011. The utilization of historical data and geospatial technology advances at the Jornada Experimental Range to support western America ranching culture. Remote Sensing. 3:2089-2109.

Duniway, M., Karl, J.W., Schrader, T.S., Baquera, N., Herrick, J.E. 2012. Rangeland and pasture monitoring: An approach to interpretation of high-resolution imagery focused on observer calibration for repeatability. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment. 184(6):3789-3804.

Anderson, D.M., Winters, C.D., Estell, R.E., Fredrickson, E.L., Dominec, M., Detweiler, C., Rus, D., James, D.K. 2012. Characterizing the spatial and temporal activities of free-ranging cows from GPS data. The Rangeland Journal. 34:149-161.

Chopping, M., Schaaf, C.B., Zhao, F., Wang, Z., Nolin, A.W., Moisen, G.G., Martonchik, J.V., Bull, M. 2011. Forest structure and aboveground biomass in the southwestern United States from MODIS and MISR. Remote Sensing of Environment. 115:2943-2953.

Eldridge, D.J., Koen, T.B., Killgore, A., Huang, N., Whitford, W.G. 2012. Animal foraging as a mechanism for sediment movement and soil nutrient development: Evidence from the semi-arid Australian woodlands and the Chihuahuan Desert. Geomorphology. 157-158:131-141.

Whitford, W.G., Steinberger, Y. 2012. Effects of seasonal grazing, drought, fire, and carbon enrichment on soil microarthropods in a desert grassland. Journal of Arid Environments. 83:10-14.

Throop, H.L., Reichmann, L.G., Sala, O., Archer, S. 2012. Response of dominant grass and shrub species to water manipulation: an ecophysiological basis for shrub invasion in a Chihuahuan Desert grassland. Oecologia. 169:373-383.

Whitford, W., Ginzburg, O., Berg, N., Steinberger, Y. 2012. Do long-lived ants affect soil microbial communities? Biology and Fertility of Soils. 48:227-233.

Barnes, P.W., Throop, H.L., Hewins, D.B., Abbene, M.L., Archer, S.R. 2011. Soil coverage reduce photodegradation and promotes the development of soil-microbial films on dryland leaf litter. Ecosystems. 15:311-321.

Alvarez, L.J., Epstein, H.E., Li, J., Okin, G. 2012. Aeolian process effects on vegetation communities in an arid grassland ecosystem. Ecology and Evolution. 2:809-821.

Wall, D., Bardgett, R.D., Behan-Pelletier, V., Herrick, J.E., Jones, H., Ritz, K., Six, J., Strong, D.R., van der Putten, W.H. (Editors). 2012. Soil Ecology and Ecosystem Services. Oxford University Press. UK. 424 p.

Herrick, J.E., Duniway, M., Pyke, D.A., Bestelmeyer, B.T., Wills, S.A., Brown, J.R., Karl, J.W., Havstad, K.M. 2012. A holistic strategy for adaptive land management. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 67(4):105A-113A.

Last Modified: 2/23/2016
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