Location: Range Management Research2018 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 development using ground-based and remote-sensed data. 1B: Create and populate a national database of ecological dynamics to be used in guiding national ecological site description development. 2) Improve techniques, including remotely sensed methodologies, for rangeland monitoring and assessment applicable to landscapes within MLRAs. 2A: Develop and evaluate innovative approaches for remotely monitoring land surface conditions in order to improve existing and develop new methods. 2B: Develop innovative, integrated, and flexible inventory, assessment, and monitoring techniques and decision support tools. 3) Evaluate effectiveness of historic, current, and new grassland restoration practices for dominant ecological sites New Mexico. 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. 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. 4B: Evaluate new low-input livestock production strategies that apply to arid environments of the Southwest U.S. 5) Develop mechanistically based predictions of vegetation state changes and site based wind erosion susceptibilities for landscapes. 5A: Predict climate-driven vegetation state changes for western landscapes. 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. 6) As part of the Long-Term Agro-ecosystem Research (LTAR) Network, use the Jornada LTAR to improve observational capabilities and data accessibility of the LTAR network to support research to sustain or enhance agricultural production and environmental quality of the Rio Grande River Basin. 7) Develop science-based, region specific information and technologies for agricultural producers and natural resource managers that enable climate-smart decision-making.
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 big data integration, models, and synthesis to develop new insights about agroecosystem functions. 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 (LTER) Network of the National Science Foundation, the National Ecological Observation Network (NEON), all of which the Jornada hosts, and to nationally and globally accessible LTAR, LTER, 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. For objective 7, the SW Climate Hub will establish agreements with state extension and education entities across the six-state region. These agreements will develop and transfer climate-smart decision-making information, involving other USDA agencies, to producers and land managers in Hawaii, California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico.
3. Progress Report:
Progress was made in all seven objectives. Ecological site descriptions (ESDs) and state-and-transition models (STMs) continue to be developed and used as guides for land management. New analyses were used to develop a draft key to ecological states and phases for an ecological site group for use by land managers across the U.S. (Objective 1A). A national on-line database to house ecological site information was developed for public release during the past year. This Ecosystem Dynamics Interpretative Tool (EDIT) database is currently being used by land managers to increase the impact of ESD information on management decisions (Objective 1B). Progress was made in the use of remote sensing to monitor rangeland vegetation and health (Objective 2A). Satellite imagery was used to develop indicators of seasonal vegetation change to identify locations of greatest plant recovery from drought. Standardized rangeland inventory, assessment, and monitoring decision support tools and data analysis packages were developed. These new on-line statistical analysis packages were used to support Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) national inventory and monitoring programs and were used by BLM to make management decisions regarding grazing management and Sage-grouse habitat suitability. These tools and resources developed by scientists at the Jornada are being used by land managers and policy makers worldwide to inform management decisions (Objective 2B). Effectiveness of past rangeland conservation practices was evaluated as part of the BLM's Restore New Mexico project. Thirty-nine long-term monitoring sites were analyzed during the past year to assess long-term responses to previous brush management treatments. Information is currently being used by agencies and land managers to determine where brush management practices have the most potential for success (Objective 3). Progress was made in evaluation of New World Criollo cattle as an alternative low-input production system for arid rangelands. A study was completed to evaluate foraging behavior of purebred and crossbred Criollo steers. Preliminary analyses suggest Criollo and Criollo crossbred steers both retained the desirable movement and spatial distribution patterns previously observed for Criollo cows on extensive desert landscapes (Objective 4). An operational framework was developed using multiple lines of evidence (long-term data, sensor and imagery products, static and dynamic maps, long-term manipulations, and analytical, numerical and conceptual models) to improve the ability of land managers to understand and predict vegetation responses in drylands to alternative climate scenarios (Objective 5A). Progress was made in the development of a national wind erosion network. Wind Erosion Network sites are in operation at 10 sites across the western U.S. that are collecting data in real time. These data are being used in collaborative research to assess and monitor wind erosion and to develop predictive models to estimate wind erosion on different landscapes and under different management scenarios in order to identify practices to help reduce wind erosion and improve air quality (Objective 5b, 6a). The Snowmelt Runoff Model was revised and the new model was tested on 10 basins in the Southwest for its ability to predict stream flow on which farmers and ranchers rely (Objective 6b). In support of the Southwest Regional Climate Hub, Jornada scientists worked with scientists and Cooperative Extension Agents in New Mexico, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, California, and Utah to build and support a network of climate extension professionals focused on climate adaptation, hosted the website, and disseminated information to assist farmers, ranchers and foresters (Objective 7a). Jornada scientists partnered with the Asombro Institute for Science Education to develop educational materials about the impacts of climate change for teachers and students as part of the Southwest Climate Hub for Risk Adaptation and Mitigation of Climate Change. A second unit entitled "The Effects of Climate Change on Agricultural Systems" was completed and made available to educators (Objective 7b).
1. Land-Potential Knowledge System (LandPKS) development and implementation. Land managers in the U.S. currently lack an efficient system for accessing and sharing knowledge about land management that is relevant to the potential of their land. Because land potential depends on soil, topography and climate, the identification of appropriate management systems begins by matching areas with similar conditions. ARS scientists in Las Cruces, New Mexico continued development of the LandPKS app on iOS and Android phones and tablets allowing managers to rapidly collect and store soil and topographic information (LandInfo) and monitor vegetation (LandCover) of a given area. They also refined algorithms to identify soils based on user inputs, implemented a more precise and accurate tool for determining soil color using smartphone cameras, completed an analysis of soil texture determinations by citizen scientists, and developed an international standardized system for automatically determining Land Capability Class on the phone based on user inputs. These tools will be combined with other apps to develop information databases for identification of management options for enhanced global land productivity and sustainability.
2. Wind erosion network development and implementation. Rangeland wind erosion reduces soil productivity and causes highway fatalities, human health problems, and infrastructure damage. Long-term networked research using standardized methodology is needed to accurately measure and model effects of management practices on wind erosion to mitigate this problem. National Wind Erosion Research Network sites at ten locations have been coordinated by ARS scientists in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Coordination of six additional Network sites is in progress on rangeland and cropland locations in collaboration with ARS, the Bureau of Land Management, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The Network sites are part of the Long-Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) network. Network data are being used in collaborative research across LTAR sites to provide new insights about wind erosion monitoring and assessment across agroecological systems that will inform producers and land managers regarding land use practices that help reduce wind erosion.
3. Multi-scale big data-model integration to improve production and environmental quality on western rangelands. Vector-borne diseases such as vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) have major economic implications for animal agriculture globally. ARS scientists in Las Cruces, New Mexico are collaborating with others to retrospectively integrate environmental, vector, host and viral variables with disease occurrence in an effort to predict future occurrence and distribution of vector-borne diseases. Proximity of surface waters to VSV occurrences were analyzed to inspect the relationship between water bodies and the transmission of VSV between vectors and hosts. VSV genetic data were also examined with respect to geographic locations to build phylogenetic trees and describe the distribution of genetic lineages across the western U.S. in an effort to identify outbreak and dispersal pathways. Finally, vector-related proactive mitigation strategies were examined that could be employed by producers at the premise level and suggested for broader use by animal health professions to reduce economic costs of quarantine designation during VSV incursions and outbreaks.
4. Tools and techniques for multi-scale inventory, monitoring, and assessment. Standardized approaches for monitoring rangelands are needed to allow land managers and public land agencies to collect and share data that address numerous rangeland management and policy needs. ARS scientists in Las Cruces, New Mexico led the development of monitoring program design and data analysis R packages (dima.tools, terradactyl, aim.analysis, and sample.design) to support Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) national inventory and monitoring programs. These R packages were used by BLM to produce reports and make management decisions regarding Sage-grouse habitat suitability and to improve grazing management systems. Methods, tools, databases, information resources and training are available on-line and are being used by land managers and policy makers to manage rangelands at local to continental scales over millions of acres of rangelands.
5. Evaluation of conservation practices. Conservation practices to maintain or restore desired ecosystem states are often applied without a clear understanding of their effects on various ecosystem services. A lack of information on the effects of these practices can lead to undesirable outcomes and wasted resources. ARS scientists in Las Cruces, New Mexico continued to maintain the Bureau of Land Management's Restore New Mexico monitoring program to examine the long-term responses to previous brush management treatments. A total of 187 transects are now being monitored. Analyses were completed for ten 10-year plot pairs and 29 5-year plot pairs during the past year, and results were formally presented to the Restore New Mexico Coordination Group in June 2018. Agencies, producers and land managers will benefit from knowing where brush management practices have the most potential for success.
6. Low input livestock production strategies. New world cattle biotypes may be one strategy for ranchers to cope with low and variable forage production often associated with semiarid rangelands in the western U.S. Raramuri Criollo cattle have undergone approximately 500 years of natural selection and adaptation to harsh rangeland conditions. However, their calves tend to be smaller and take longer to achieve marketable weight. ARS scientists in Las Cruces, New Mexico compared foraging behavior of grass-fed Criollo steers to crossbred steers from Criollo cows and Brangus sires. Preliminary data suggest Criollo and Criollo crossbred steers exhibited similar movement and spatial distribution patterns. Both groups demonstrated desirable grazing behavior traits previously observed with Criollo cows on extensive desert landscapes. Identifying biotypes with foraging strategies that match forage resources in extensive semiarid ecosystems will benefit ranchers by optimizing use of available forage.
7. Innovative approaches for remotely monitoring land surface conditions. Improved remote sensing and data acquisition technologies are needed for rangeland vegetation mapping and monitoring. ARS scientists in Las Cruces, New Mexico identified vegetation indicators of drought and drought recovery using time series satellite imagery. A tool (Breaks for Additive Seasonal and Trend Monitor or BFAST-M algorithm) was refined to evaluate seasonal vegetation change from satellite images and to identify locations of greatest plant recovery from drought. This process can be used for monitoring large landscapes to identify areas of greatest impact and recovery from drought on western rangelands. A phenology research initiative for the Long-Term Agro-Ecosystem Research (LTAR) network was established and ARS scientists collaborated with 16 other sites to identify tools for analyzing and synthesizing remotely sensed imagery at sites across the LTAR network. Land managers and producers will benefit from new technologies to remotely determine vegetation characteristics and forecast productivity to improve sustainable agricultural productivity.
8. Protocols for data-driven ecological site descriptions. Ecological site descriptions (ESDs) and state-and-transition models (STMs) are being developed and used as guides for land management; however, the data and information used to create these tools vary in quality and utility. ARS scientists in Las Cruces, New Mexico used new analyses of a large inventory dataset to develop a draft key to ecological states and phases for an ecological site group to illustrate a potential strategy for use across the U.S. This key will be used to make science-informed land management decisions across the U.S. and the globe.
9. Snowmelt runoff watershed characterization. Increased knowledge of the characteristics and capacities of watersheds in the Rio Grande Basin is crucial to understanding their ability to deliver water to farmers and ranchers that depend on these systems. The Snowmelt Runoff Model (SRM) was revised and the new model (SRMc21) has been successfully tested on 10 basins across the Southwest. The new model was used to simulate impacts of sequential warming (+1, +2, +3 and +4) on annual stream flow of the four basins contributing the most water annually to the Upper Rio Grande. A revised version of the SRMc21 manual was also completed. The revised SRM is used in conjunction with other models and satellite measurements by the hydrological modeling community to forecast snowmelt runoff on which farmers and ranchers rely and to project water availability in a warmer and more variable future.
10. Ecological dynamics national database. General models of vegetation change at regional scales are needed to improve consistency of state-and-transition models (STMs) among ecological sites. The Ecosystem Dynamics Interpretative Tool (EDIT) was modified by ARS scientists in Las Cruces, New Mexico to ingest all data from the existing Ecological Site Information System (ESIS) database into EDIT. This national on-line EDIT database is now populated with all existing ecological site data and will be publically released in July 2018. The database dramatically improves access to ESD information by land managers and the public, which in turn will increase the impact of ESDs on land management.
11. Climate smart decision-making technologies. New Mexico, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, California, and Utah established a partnership to develop climate-smart decision-making tools in support of the USDA Southwest Regional Climate Hub (SW Hub). The SW Hub and ARS scientists worked with the Risk Management Agency to build the AgRisk Data Viewer, a national data viewer and download platform that serves cause of loss and indemnity data by crop from national to county scales (https://www.swclimatehub.info/rma/). The SW Hub built and supported a network of climate extension professionals focused on climate adaptation, including hosting a website and sending regular bulletins. The SW Hub and its partners also hosted the 86th Western Snow Conference and initiated a partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to develop and deliver information about air quality and dust mitigation related to agricultural practices and future climate. The SW Hub strives to develop, synthesize and provide information to assist Southwestern farmers, ranchers and foresters in strategically adapting to the impacts of climate change.
12. Long-Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) network wind erosion research and model calibration. In addition to harming soil productivity, wind erosion from rangelands impacts snowmelt and water supplies, and causes human health issues and low visibility on highways. National Wind Erosion Research Network sites installed at seven LTAR network locations and at three collaborating sites (Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Geological Survey, Department of Defense) collect data to support development of predictive models and management options. LTAR network data (e.g., sediment mass flux, meteorological conditions, dust deposition) are being used by ARS scientists in Las Cruces, New Mexico to calibrate and test two numerical models to estimate wind erosion: (1) the Aeolian Erosion (AERO) model and (2) a spatially-explicit model driven by remote sensing inputs that enables moderate-resolution (500 m) national assessments. Soil and vegetation data collected by U.S. rangeland monitoring programs (Bureau of Land Management's Assessment, Inventory and Monitoring program, and Natural Resources Conservation Service Natural Resources Inventory) was used to implement the AERO model. These model applications are enabling plot-to-national scale wind erosion assessments and identification of benchmarks for erosion control to support land management and improve air quality. This information will help land managers and producers identify mechanisms to reduce soil erosion and improve land management.
13. Prediction of climate-driven vegetation state changes. Directional decreases or increases in precipitation are predicted for rangelands in the future. ARS scientists in Las Cruces, New Mexico developed an operational framework using multiple lines of evidence, including long-term data, sensor and imagery products, static and dynamic maps, long-term manipulations, and analytical, numerical and conceptual models, to improve understanding and prediction of vegetation responses of drylands to alternative climate scenarios. This information will assist land managers and producers in responding to shifting weather conditions.
14. K-12 Science curriculum on climate change. Jornada scientists are collaborating with the Asombro Institute for Science Education to develop educational materials about the impacts of climate change for teachers and students as part of the Southwest Regional Climate Hub for Risk Adaptation and Mitigation of Climate Change. A unit entitled "Climate Change and the Hydrologic Cycle" continued to be distributed to educators in both English and Spanish. A second module, "The Effects of Climate Change on Agricultural Systems," was completed and made available to educators. The five activities in this unit went through rigorous pilot testing, revision and review by educators and scientists. Links to the curriculum units were provided to teacher groups, environmental education groups, and extension agents throughout the Southwest Climate Hub region. Asombro staff also conducted workshops for educators in numerous venues.
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