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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Range Management Research

2009 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
Progress was made on all four objectives and their subobjectives, all of which fall under National Program 215, Component I, Rangeland Management Systems to Enhance the Environment and Economic Viability. Progress on this project focuses on Problem A, the need for economically viable rangeland management practices, germplasm, technologies, and strategies to conserve and enhance rangeland ecosystems, and Problem B, the need for improved rangeland production systems for rangelands that provide and use forages in ways that are economically viable and enhance the environment. Under Objective A.1, we made significant progress in developing management and monitoring strategies that conserve natural resources. These strategies were developed for arid and semi-arid rangelands in North America and Asia. State and transition models, ground-based indicators, and remote sensing technologies were developed and tested as a suite of monitoring technologies for a broad range of spatial and temporal scales. These technologies also address Objective B.1, to develop monitoring tools and management strategies for managers, because they are being adopted by other federal agencies, such as the BLM, in monitoring rangeland status and change. Under Objective A.3, we made significant progress in identifying factors that can be used to predict and minimize rangeland degradation. We made progress toward demonstrating the role of endophytes in stomatal function in plants that can be used to improve revegetation success, with special emphasis on restoring degraded arid grasslands in the southwestern US. Progress was also made in determining the role of landscape context and connections among spatial units in limiting remediation success. Progress was made in identifying new methods to modify the spatial distribution of water, with influences on the spatial pattern in plant establishment. Under Objective B.4, we made significant progress in assessing animal productivity under alternative management strategies. Progress was made toward determining the effects of supplementation on palatability of juniper to livestock. Progress was also made in determining market potential for aridland-adapted cattle (Criollo) compared to European breeds. Progress was also made in testing inexpensive sensors to gather cattle into corrals using directional virtual fencing technology.

4. Accomplishments
1. ARS unit develops science-based monitoring protocols for restoration of 1 million acres of rangleand: The Bureau of Land Management has treated over 1,000,000 acres of rangelands for brush control in the Restore New Mexico program from 2006-2009. The ARS unit based at the Jornada Experimental Range used new research-based technologies to identify where and how to monitor the effects of these management practices, costing over $20,000,000. Future treatment of rangelands administered by the BLM will be guided by assessments of the effects of these conservation practices drawn from these monitored locations. This science-based guidance will save millions of dollars in unnecessary treatment applications.

2. Data support for state-and-transition models (STMs) that describe rangeland dynamics: Long-term data are often unavailable to test STMs. Data-driven processes to test STMs concepts were developed for heterogeneous landscapes. Survey data, disturbance experiments, and monitoring provided a test of assumptions underlying these models. Approach provides interpretation of monitoring and assessment data for the NRCS Conservation Effects Assessment Program (CEAP) for grazing lands. Interpretations enable decision-making to target restoration activities and to modify management to increase rangeland sustainability.

3. Development and calibration of ground-based indicators of ecosystem processes: Cost-effective vegetation and soil measures are needed that reflect status of underlying processes. Analyses of 10 years of data from southern New Mexico showed that the sensitivity of indicators to disturbance effects on ecosystem processes varies with disturbance type and ecological site. Information will be used by the BLM, NRCS, DoD, and NPS to evaluate effects of management practices on the status of >100 million acres of US western rangelands.

4. Improved remote sensing technologies for monitoring patterns: Remote sensing technologies often do not have the resolution to distinguish vegetation type and bare soil. Development of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) has provided high resolution (6 cm) data to distinguish vegetation types, amount of bare soil, patch and gap sizes, and detailed vegetation patterns. This capability can be used directly to assess rangeland health. Because of the UAV capability to return to the same point in the landscape on a repetitive basis, the imagery can also be used for change detection assessments.

5. Developed genetically-based tools specific for identifying cryptic endophytes in common rangeland shrubs: Endophytic fungi associated with four-wing saltbush, a common western U.S. shrub may increase host plant tolerance to arid environments, but detection of uncultured endophytes has been hampered by suitable lack of tools. New genetically-based tools, called primers successfully amplified novel fungal sequences from two species without amplifying plant sequences. These primers will enable monitoring of endophyte dynamics in natural systems and in restoration settings.

6. Importance of landscape linkages for remediation success: Role of landscape context and connections among spatial units in remediation efforts needs to be better understood to increase their success rate. Analyses showed that reducing barrier interspaces (improving linkages) can increase resource retention and plant establishment at plant and patch scales in different parts of the landscape, but the magnitude of the effect varied with landscape location. Land managers can use this result to identify landscape locations where modification of soil and vegetation is more likely to improve soil and water resource retention.

7. Identify biochemical principles of diet selection on individual shrubs to modify livestock foraging strategies: Role of compounds produced by a plant but that are not critical to survival, called secondary compounds, and nutrients on intake of one-seeded juniper by livestock is unknown. Juniper is a widely available plant but not typically used by livestock. Sheep and goats were fed one-seeded juniper branches following basal diets with either rumen degradable or undegradable protein supplement or a control with no additional protein. Goats had higher juniper intake than sheep, and intake of juniper was greater for both species with supplements compared to controls. Juniper intake was least when plant secondary compounds were greatest. Land managers can use these results to increase juniper intake via protein supplementation when secondary metabolite concentrations are low.

8. Autonomous gathering of free-ranging cows: Free-ranging livestock are periodically gathered to conduct routine husbandry practices, yet this activity can be time consuming and labor intensive. Preliminary research demonstrated that cows can be gathered autonomously into a corral containing water by playing human voice cues through a directional virtual fencing (DV(tm)) system. Autonomous gathering brought the animals into the corral faster than conventional methods. Autonomous gathering provides a low stress, efficient, repeatable and labor saving alternative to manual gathering of free-ranging livestock.

9. Market potential for aridland-adapted breeds of cattle: Increasing costs for fuel, grains, and supplemental feeds create opportunities for changes in US beef production systems. Criollo cows that co-evolved with arid landscapes were studied for their aridland traits and market potential. Criollo cattle require fewer external inputs and have fewer negative impacts on rangelands than traditional breeds. However, their smaller size prevents them from entering existing commodity markets without a substantial producer discount. Results show that Criollo cattle finished with a small amount of grain are well received by a local market with consumers stressing meat flavor. These cattle can have local and regional markets that bring producers a premium while decreasing production costs and reducing negative impacts on rangelands.

10. Simulation modeling of vegetation dynamics, or changes in species composition over time: Tools are needed to integrate our knowledge base in order to understand historic dynamics and to predict future dynamics. A soil water dynamics simulation model was used to compare black grama establishment under historic (1850s) and current vegetation and soil conditions. Establishment was affected more by changes in soil properties than shifts in vegetation from grass to shrub dominance. Results can be used to identify the landscape locations where establishment is likely to be successful for remediation efforts.

11. Integrated management, monitoring, and knowledge toolbox: An integrated suite of improved tools is needed to facilitate the synthesis, integration, and application of new and existing research. A rangeland database and simple field acquisition system that includes a wide range of assessment and monitoring tools was improved by further increasing the quality of its automated indicator calculation and reporting system. Elements of this framework were refined and applied to assessment, monitoring, and management of linear disturbances in rangelands. Elements of this toolbox are being adopted throughout the US, and were incorporated into a BLM rangeland health training course, thus increasing data quality, accessibility, and applicability to management.

Review Publications
Peters, D.C., Bestelmeyer, B.T., Knapp, A.K., Herrick, J.E., Monger, H., Havstad, K.M. 2009. Approaches to predicting broad-scale regime shifts using changing pattern-process relationships across scales. In: Miao, S., Carstenn, S., Nungesser, M. editors. Real World Ecology: Large-Scale and Long-Term Case Studies and Methods. New York: Springer. p. 47-72.

Rango, A., Laliberte, A., Winters, C. 2008. Role of aerial photos in compiling a long-term remote sensing data set. Journal of Applied Remote Sensing. 2, 023541.

Laliberte, A., Rango, A. 2009. Texture and scale in object-based analysis of subdecimeter resolution unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) imagery. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing. 47:761-770.

Czech, B., Heitschmidt, R., Brown, J., Hild, A. 2008. Sustainable rangeland management, economic growth, and a cautious role for the SRM. Rangelands. 30:33-37.

Bestelmeyer, B.T., Tugel, A., Peacock, G.L., Robinett, D., Shaver, P.L., Brown, J., Herrick, J.E., Sanchez, H., Havstad, K.M. 2009. State-and-transition models for heterogeneous landscapes: A strategy for development and application. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 62:1-15.

Okin, G.S., Parsons, A.J., Wainwright, J., Herrick, J.E., Bestelmeyer, B.T., Peters, D.C., Fredrickson, E.L. 2009. Do changes in connectivity explain desertification? Bioscience. 59:237-244.

Utsumi, S.A., Cibils, A.F., Estell, R.E., Soto-Navarro, S.A., Van Leeuwen, D. 2009. Seasonal changes in one seed juniper intake by sheep and goats in relation to dietary protein and plant secondary metabolites. Small Ruminant Research. 81:152-162.

James, A.I., Eldridge, D.J., Koen, T.B., Whitford, W.G. 2008. Landscape position moderates how ant nests affect hydrology and soil chemistry across a Chihuahuan Desert watershed. Landscape Ecology. 23:961-975.

Roth, G.A., Whitford, W.G., Steinberger, Y. 2009. Small mammal herbivory: Feedbacks that help maintain desertified ecosystems. Journal of Arid Environments. 73:62-65.

Eldridge, D.J., Whitford, W.G. 2009. Badger (Taxidea taxus) disturbances increase soil heterogeneity in a degraded shrub-steppe ecosystem. Journal of Arid Environments. 73:66-73.

Noble, J.C., Muller, W.J., Whitford, W.G., Pfitzner, G.H. 2009. The significance of termites as decomposers in contrasting grassland communities of semi-arid eastern Australia. Journal of Arid Environments. 73:113-119.

Ginzburg, O., Whitford, W.G., Steinberger, Y. 2008. Effect of harvester ant (Messor spp.) activity on soil properties and microbial communities in a Negev Desert ecosystem. Biology and Fertility of Soils. 45:165-173.

Whitford, W.G., Steinberger, Y. 2009. Harvester ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) discriminate among artificial seeds with different protein contents. Sociobiology. 53:549-558.

Godinez-Alvarez, H., Herrick, J.E., Mattocks, M., Toledo, D.N., Van Zee, J.W. 2009. Comparison of three vegetation monitoring methods: Their relative utility for ecological assessment and monitoring. Journal of Ecological Indicators. 9:1001-1008.

Peters, D.P.C., Lauenroth, W.K., Burke, I.C. 2008. The role of disturbances in shortgrass steppe community and ecosystem dynamics. In: Lauenroth, W.K., Burke, I.C., editors. Ecology of the Shortgrass Steppe: A Long-Term Perspective. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 84-118.

Peters, D.C., Pielke, R.A., Bestelmeyer, B.T., Allen, C.D., Munson-McGee, S., Havstad, K.M. 2007. Spatial nonlinearities: Cascading effects in the earth system. In: Canadell, J.G., Pataki, D.E., Pitelka, L.F., editors. Terrestrial Ecosystems in a Changing World. Berlin Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag. p. 165-174.

Northcott, J., Andersen, M.C., Roemer, G.W., Fredrickson, E.L., Demers, M., Truett, J., Ford, P. 2008. Spatial analysis of effects of mowing and burning on colony expansion in reintroduced black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus). Restoration Ecology. 16:495-502.

Havstad, K.M. 2006. Productivity and desertification. In: Lal, R., editor. Encyclopedia of Soil Science. New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc. p. 1375-1377.

Moran, M.S., Peters, D.C., Mcclaren, M.P., Nichols, M.H., Adams, M.B. 2008. Long-term data collection at USDA experimental sites for studies of ecohydrology. Journal of Ecohydrology. 1:377–393. DOI: 10.1002/eco.24.

Bestelmeyer, B.T., Havstad, K.M., Damindsuren, B., Han, G., Brown, J., Herrick, J.E., Steele, C., Peters, D.C. 2009. Resilience theory in models of rangeland ecology and restoration: The evolution and application of a paradigm. In: Hobbs, R.J., Suding, K.N., editors. New Models for Ecosystem Dynamics and Restoration. Washington, DC: Island Press. p. 78-95.

Havstad, K.M., Peters, D.C., Allen-Diaz, B., Bartolome, J., Bestelmeyer, B.T., Briske, D., Brown, J., Brunson, M., Herrick, J.E., Huntsinger, L., Johnson, P., Joyce, L., Pieper, R., Svejcar, A.J., Yao, J. 2009. The western United States rangelands, a major resource. In: Wedin, W.F., Fales, S.L. editors. Grassland Quietness and Strength for a New American Agriculture. Madison, WI. American Society of Agronomy, Inc., Crop Science Society of America, Inc., Soil Science Society of America, Inc. p. 75-93.

Havstad, K.M. 2008. Ecosystem functions of grazing lands. International Community Rangeland Management, People and Policy: Introducing Some Key Concepts. Ford Foundation Press. Topic #16.

Damdinsuren, B., Herrick, J.E., Pyke, D.A., Bestelmeyer, B.T., Havstad, K.M. 2008. Is rangeland health relevant to Mongolia? Rangelands. 30:25-29.

Rango, A., Havstad, K.M. 2009. Water-harvesting applications for rangelands revisited. Environmental Practice. 11(2):84-94.

Casanova, L.R., Bestelmeyer, B.T. 2008. What can ant diversity-energy relationships tell us about land use and land change (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)? Myrmecological News. 11:183-190.

Liang, Y., Han, G., Zhou, H., Zhao, M., Snyman, H.A., Shan, D., Havstad, K.M. 2009. Grazing intensity on vegetation dynamics of a typical steppe in Northeast Inner Mongolia. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 62:328-336.

Romme, W.H., Allen, C.D., Bailey, J.D., Baker, W.L., Bestelmeyer, B.T., Brown, P.M., Eisenhart, K.S., Floyd, M., Huffman, D.W., Jacobs, B.F., Miller, R.F., Muldavin, E.H., Swetnam, T.W., Tausch, R.J., Weisberg, P.J. 2009. Historical and modern disturbance regimes, stand structures, and landscape dynamics in pinon-juniper vegetation of the western United States. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 62:203-222.

Ukabi, S., Whitford, W., Steinberger, Y. 2009. Faunalpedturbation effects on soil microarthropods in the Negev Desert. Journal of Arid Environments. 73:907-911.

Duval, B.D., Whitford, W.G. 2009. Camel spider (Solifugae) use of prairie dog colonies. Western North American Naturalist. 69:272-276.

Last Modified: 05/24/2017
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