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ARS Home » Plains Area » Miles City, Montana » Livestock and Range Research Laboratory » Research » Research Project #424156

Research Project: Adaptive Rangeland Management of Livestock Grazing, Disturbance, and Climatic Variation

Location: Livestock and Range Research Laboratory

2015 Annual Report

Objective 1: Develop management strategies to improve rangeland cattle production and ecological stability in the northern Great Plains through effective use of rangeland forage resources, precision supplementation, and livestock with greater adaptability to climatic, physiological, and nutritional stress. Sub-objective 1.1 Determine effects of dormant rangeland forage utilization on heifer development, plant productivity, and species composition. Sub-objective 1.2 Develop nutritional management for post-weaning heifer development to complement annual and weather-driven fluctuations in forage availability and quality. Sub-objective 1.3 Estimate effects of vegetation, climate, and environmental variables on cattle growth. Sub-objective 1.4 Develop mineral supplement and water amendment strategies to ameliorate weather-induced changes in naturally occurring rangeland stock water quality. Sub-objective 1.5 Develop a molecular barcode system for northern mixed-grass prairie plant species that will enable future description of plants consumed by livestock on rangelands. Objective 2: Develop management strategies integrating grazing, fire, and chemical practices to restore rangelands degraded by weeds and prevent weed invasions in the northern Great Plains. Sub-objective 2.1 Develop fire and herbicide treatment combinations to reduce annual brome abundance in rangelands. Sub-objective 2.2 Develop effective practices to rehabilitate rangeland riverine sites that have been mechanically and chemically treated to eradicate Russian olive. Sub-objective 2.3 Identify and develop effective reclamation strategies for converting coal mining lands back to livestock grazing lands. Sub-objective 2.4 Determine physiological traits allowing perennial seedlings to use dormancy to survive unfavorable environmental conditions. Objective 3: Develop adaptive strategies for managing the interacting effects of livestock grazing, fire, and climatic variation on northern Great Plains rangelands to increase the stability of livestock production while maintaining ecosystem health. Sub-objective 3.1 Quantify grazing season and intensity effects on plant community composition and productivity. Sub-objective 3.2 Quantify interacting effects of climate with defoliation timing and intensity on rangeland stability. Sub-objective 3.3 Determine rangeland community response to autumn defoliation intensity. Sub-objective 3.4 Determine post-fire weather effects on plant community response to summer fire. Sub-objective 3.5 Determine the effect of mycorrhizal fungi and different levels of simulated grazing on plant community composition and measures of soil health. Sub-objective 3.6 Determine plant and soil community response to fire return interval and seasonality.

Sustainability of rangeland production hinges on the stability of plant communities because changes in species composition, forage production, and forage quality fundamentally affect the animal community. The primary forces of change in rangelands are weather, grazing, alien plants, and fire. This project is designed to improve ecological sustainability and rangeland production by addressing opportunities for increased efficiency of livestock nutrient conversion, mechanisms affecting restoration success, and interacting effects of disturbances with weather and climate. We propose improved efficiency of nutrient conversion from dormant rangeland forages is among the most viable options for increasing animal production and minimizing effects on plant communities. We will address this proposition through a series of experiments evaluating plant and animal responses to dormant-season utilization and supplementation strategies. Rangeland restoration methods will be evaluated for direct weed control and mechanisms controlling successful establishment of desirable species. Water manipulations will be included in multiple experiments to determine weather and long-term climate effects because precipitation is the primary controlling factor for plant productivity and community composition. Experiments will be integrated across objectives to determine interacting effects of precipitation, grazing, weeds, and fire on soil and plant communities (production, species composition, diversity, propagation, survival) and cattle (weight gain, reproductive performance, diet quality, diet selection). Understanding the mechanisms that control rangeland stability and animal responses to alterations in plant communities will assist land managers and livestock producers in improving rangeland integrity and efficiency of livestock production. Results will also provide scientists greater understanding of the complex interacting forces on rangelands.

Progress Report
Objective 1. Final year of data were completed ahead of schedule to assess heifer development on dormant rangeland with metabolic stimulators that target deficiencies observed in cattle grazing dormant range forage. Phenotypic and biomass data continue to be collected to assess the impact of fall (dormant season) grazing on annual forage production and how strategic supplementation impacts heifer development. Verification of data quality has been completed for modeling climate effects on cattle growth. Published manuscript on factors affecting livestock drinking water quality. DNA metabarcoding of diet samples training was done during fall. Objective 2. Conducted the final herbicide application and collected plant data for the fire x herbicide experiment for controlling annual brome. Monitoring of Russian olive control effects on plants, nutrients and animals continued. Treatments for manipulative experiments on mine reclamation were completed. Objective 3. Grazing intensity x season experiments were treated for the second year as were mechanical defoliation treatments and rainout shelters were deployed to begin phase manipulating precipitation. Second year response data were collected and treatments repeated for fall defoliation experiment. Post-fire weather effects were assessed for the first year, which was a severe natural drought, and sites are prepared for the next year of treatment. Fungicide and defoliation treatments were continued to determine mycorrhizal effects on plant and soil communities. Season and frequency of fire treatments were applied and vegetation measurements were taken. Data to date have been summarized for the International Fire Ecology and Management Congress.

1. Extent of livestock water quality varies across and within years by source, location and season. We examined effects of location (geology), source (spring, well, runoff catchment and surface flowing water) season (rainy and dry) and year (5) on 9 chemical characteristics of naturally occurring water at 48 watering sites. We determined that spring water is sensitive to yearly and seasonal precipitation changes. The extent of these changes was dependent on location. Well water was the most resistant to change while runoff catchment tended to maintain the highest quality. Depending on the environmental conditions the loss in quality can jeopardize animal well-being. The results of this study were used to solve multiple cases of sudden death experienced by range beef cows in the Northern Great Plains in 2011 and 12. 215 1 B 2013

Review Publications
Russell, M.L., Vermeire, L.T. 2015. Fire and nitrogen alter axillary bud number and activity in purple threeawn. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 68:65-70.
Petersen, M.K., Muscha, J.M., Mulliniks, T.T., Waterman, R.C., Roberts, A.J., Rinella, M.J. 2015. Sources of variability in livestock water quality over 5 years in the Northern Great Plains. Journal of Animal Science. doi:10.2527/jas2014-8028.
Wilcox, K.R., Von Fischer, J.C., Muscha, J.M., Petersen, M.K., Knapp, A.K. 2015. Contrasting above- and belowground sensitivity of three Great Plains grasslands to altered rainfall regimes. Global Change Biology. 21:335-344.
Mowll, W., Blumenthal, D.M., Cherwin, K., Smith, A., Symstad, A.J., Vermeire, L.T., Collins, S.L., Smith, M.D., Knapp, A.K. 2015. Climatic controls of aboveground net primary production in semi-arid grasslands along a latitudinal gradient portend low sensitivity to warming. Oecologia. 177:955-969.
Reeves, J.L., Derner, J.D., Sanderson, M.A., Kronberg, S.L., Hendrickson, J.R., Vermeire, L.T., Petersen, M.K., Irisarri, G. 2015. Seasonal weather related decision making for cattle production in the Northern Great Plains. Rangelands. 37(3):119-124.
Rinella, M.J., Hammond, D., Bryant, I., Kozar, B. 2015. High precipitation and seeded species competition reduce seeded shrub establishment during dryland restoration. Ecological Applications. 25(4):1044-1053.
Gornish, E.S., Aanderud, Z.T., Sheley, R.L., Rinella, M.J., Svejcar, A.J., Englund, S.D., James, J.J. 2015. Altered snowfall and soil disturbance influence the early life stage transitions and recruitment of a native and invasive grass in a cold desert. Oecologia. 177:595-606. doi: 10.1007/s00442-014-3180-7.
Anacker, B.L., Klironomos, J.N., Maherali, H., Reinhart, K.O., Strauss, S.Y. 2014. Phylogenetic conservatism in plant-soil feedback and its implications for plant abundance. Ecology Letters. 17:1613-1621.
Russell, M.L., Vermeire, L.T., Ganguli, A.C., Hendrickson, J.R. 2015. Season of fire manipulates bud bank dynamics in northern mixed-grass prairie. Journal of Applied Ecology. 216:835-846.