Location: Range Management Research2013 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).
1. Protocols for data-driven ecological site descriptions. Ecological site descriptions and state-and-transition models are being developed and used as guides for land management, but the data and information used to create these tools are variable in quality. A general framework for integration of various data types was developed, including examples for an ecological site in MLRA 42, and an example test of ecological site concepts was developed for use as a training tool using long-term monitoring data from MLRA 41. Inventory data were collected to test ecological site concepts in MLRA 43B. These examples and training materials will improve the quality of ecological site descriptions produced by interagency groups and the information and training received by land managers.
2. Ecological dynamics national database. General models of vegetation change at regional (MLRA) scales are needed to improve consistency of state-and-transition models among ecological sites. We developed an Access database to house generalized state-and-transition models at regional and sub-regional levels. The database structure was revised based on experiences populating it with examples from several locations. The web-accessible version of the National Vegetation Dynamics Database will provide a tool for rapid communication of regional variations in vegetation dynamics to the public and policymakers, as well as consistent, evidence-based concepts for state-and-transition model development. The information housed in the database will improve the quality of ecological site products for users and decision makers and enhance public understanding of ecosystem changes occurring in the United States.
3. Innovative approaches for remotely monitoring land surface conditions. Methods are needed to integrate remotely sensed data from multiple sources in order to inform and support land management decision-making. ARS scientists in Las Cruces, NM have developed multiband observational capabilities for monitoring rangeland surface condition from tower and Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) cameras and satellite systems. Field and satellite observations were linked to monitor plant phenology in real time. Time series UAS imagery was used to develop a protocol for accurately mapping rangeland vegetation. These technologies have direct application for assessing rangeland health and monitoring vegetation type and phenology.
4. Tools and techniques for multi-scale inventory, monitoring, and assessment. Standardized approaches for monitoring rangelands are needed to allow data-sharing among agencies and to address policy needs. Scientists in Las Cruces, NM led development of core monitoring indicators, field methods, and sampling design techniques that are now being applied to over 200 million acres of BLM and private land (NRCS-NRI) in the United States. We created web-based and GIS tools to support monitoring programs (design, data collection, and analysis) and developed near real-time smartphone and tablet-based data collection protocols. The inventory, monitoring, and assessment techniques and tools developed by Jornada scientists are producing consistent and interpretable data that provide managers and policy makers with information necessary to manage resources at local to national scales.
5. Evaluation of conservation practices. Conservation practices to maintain or restore desired ecosystem states are applied with little empirical understanding of their effects on various ecosystem services. The lack of information on conservation effects can lead to undesired outcomes and wasted resources. Scientists in Las Cruces, NM maintained and expanded a structured monitoring program to evaluate effects of brush management with the BLM in MLRA 42 and initiated data synthesis and preparation for a similar effort with the Malpai Borderlands Group in MLRA 41. A website was developed to coordinate rangeland evaluation efforts in the western United States. Coordinated efforts to evaluate rangeland conservation practices on different ecological sites is needed to justify the continued application of successful practices and to improve the efficacy of practices that have variable effects.
6. Low input livestock strategies. Beef production on semiarid and arid rangelands is restricted by a limited and variable forage supply caused by environmental extremes. Unique cattle breeds provide opportunities to identify animals with desirable genetic traits. Criollo cattle are a New World breed of cattle with likely over 200 generations of desert adaptation in the Americas that are being compared to traditional breeds on the Jornada. A framework was established for data management of inputs and outputs in the two production systems. Identification of breeds that are genetically predisposed to survival in harsh desert conditions will enhance sustainable beef production in low precipitation environments and benefit producers in the western United States.
7. Predict climate-driven vegetation state changes. Directional decreases or increases in precipitation are predicted for aridlands in the future. Long-term data from the Jornada that included a four year drought and a five year wet period were used by scientists in Las Cruces, NM to predict the response of primary production in grassland and shrubland states to future drier or wetter climate. Drought decreased production in all states, and a wet period promoted grass recovery in desertified shrublands. Results are being used to parameterize mechanistic models to predict state changes under alternative land use-climate scenarios.
8. Wind erosion network development and implementation. Rangeland wind erosion results in reduced soil productivity, highway fatalities, human health problems, and infrastructure damage. Efforts to reduce wind erosion require an improved ability to consistently measure and model impacts of management strategies and land use change. A draft set of protocols for was developed for a wind erosion monitoring network. The impact of the network will be economic and health benefits associated with reduced horizontal and vertical dust flux.Reichman, L., Sala, O., Peters, D.C. 2013. Precipitation legacies in desert grassland primary production occur through previous-year tiller density. Ecology. 94:435-443.