MANAGEMENT TECHNOLOGIES FOR CONSERVATION OF WESTERN RANGELANDS
Range Management Research
2013 Annual Report
1a. Objectives (from AD-416):
The goal of the Jornada is to develop ecologically based knowledge systems and technologies for management, conservation, monitoring, and assessment of western rangelands. Our long-term research objective is to increase understanding of fundamental relationships among management practices, ecological processes, and climatic variability to improve rangeland production, conservation, and restoration. Our research plan will produce technologies to address regional and national concerns relevant to major land resource areas across the western U.S.:
1) Develop data-driven approaches in the production of ecological site descriptions that guide rangeland conservation and management practices within the western U.S.
1A: Produce new approaches for and examples of data-driven ecological site description and state-and-transition model development using analysis of inventory, historical, experimental, and monitoring data, augmented by local knowledge.
1B: Create and populate a national database of ecological dynamics to be used in guiding national ecological site description development and as a mechanism for stakeholder communication, including specific efforts in MLRAs of New Mexico, Arizona, Oregon, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Oklahoma.
2) Improve techniques, including remotely sensed methodologies, for rangeland monitoring and assessment applicable to landscapes within MLRAs, and more broadly for regional and national scales of assessment.
2A: Develop and evaluate innovative approaches for remotely monitoring land surface conditions in order to improve existing and develop new methods for rangeland monitoring across a range of spatial scales.
2B: Develop innovative, integrated, and flexible inventory, assessment, and monitoring techniques and the decision support tools necessary to implement these approaches at local to national scales.
3) Evaluate effectiveness of historic, current, and new grassland restoration practices for dominant ecological sites within specific MLRAs of New Mexico, Arizona, Oregon, and Wyoming.
3A: Design and implement new studies and analyze experimental data from conservation management practices and grazing management efforts on public and private lands in MLRA 41 & 42 of AZ & NM, MLRA 25 in OR, and MLRAs 58B & 67B in WY with respect to multiple ecosystem services.
4) Evaluate livestock management practices suitable for conserving and restoring rangelands within selected MLRAs of the southwestern U.S.
4A: Evaluate grazing management practices and their relationships to ecological state changes within ecological sites in MLRAs 41 & 42 of AZ & NM.
4B: Evaluate low-input livestock production strategies in MLRA 42.
5) Develop mechanistically based predictions of vegetation state changes and site based wind erosion susceptibilities for landscapes within selected MLRAs under alternative land use-climate change scenarios.
5A: Predict climate-driven vegetation state changes for western landscapes within selected MLRAs.
5B: Develop and implement a wind erosion monitoring network and standardize protocols for measurement and model-based predictions of changes in horizontal and vertical dust flux on western rangelands.
1b. Approach (from AD-416):
We will build upon hundreds of existing data sets from our field station and collaborating sites. We will integrate short- and long-term data sets with simulation modeling, geographic information systems, and remote sensing tools. We will combine short-term experiments to test specific hypotheses with synthetic experiments requiring a complex integration of ecosystem components and drivers. Decision-support tools resulting from this work are intended to meet the needs of public and private land managers, be adaptable across temporal and spatial scales, and be usable for assessing, monitoring, and implementing conservation practices. In implementing this research program, unit scientists will employ a scientific method that more effectively integrates data-intensive science to identify practices and solutions to specific problems. This work will contribute directly to the ARS Long-Term Agro-ecosystem Research Network (LTAR), the NSF Long-Term Ecological Research (LTAR) Network of the National Science Foundation, the National Ecological Observation Network (NEON), all of which the Jornada is a member, and to nationally and globally accessible LTAR, LTAR, NEON and other databases that are critical to finding solutions to key problems facing the conservation and management of rangelands in the western U.S. and worldwide.
3. Progress Report:
Progress was made in all five objectives. Protocols were developed for data-driven ecological site descriptions that improve consistency of site descriptions and state-and-transition models and their effectiveness for guiding land management (Objective 1A). Progress was made in the development of a national ecological dynamics database. An Access database was developed containing generalized state-and-transition models at regional/subregional levels that will enhance consistency of ecological site and state-and-transition model development and communication among individuals and policy makers (Objective 1B). New approaches were developed for using remotely sensed data to inform land management. Cost-effective methodologies were developed for rangeland vegetation mapping and monitoring changes in plant phenology at multiple scales (Objective 2A). Progress was also made in development of inventory, assessment, and monitoring techniques and decision support tools for implementation at multiple scales. Web-based and GIS tools were developed for use in designing and conducting monitoring programs, and real-time smartphone and tablet based data collection systems were implemented (Objective 2B). Progress was also made in assessing the success of past conservation management practices on western rangelands. A monitoring program to examine effects of brush control on differing ecological sites was expanded, and a website was developed to coordinate evaluation efforts (Objective 3). Progress was made in developing a framework for evaluating criollo cattle productivity on southwestern rangelands (Objective 4). Progress was also made in predicting responses of vegetation to environmental change. Long-term data from the Jornada with extreme wet and dry periods were used to predict grassland and shrubland responses to climatic shifts (Objective 5A). Protocols were also established for the wind erosion monitoring network (Objective 5B).
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