Skip to main content
ARS Home » Plains Area » Fort Collins, Colorado » Center for Agricultural Resources Research » Rangeland Resources & Systems Research » Research » Research Project #434598

Research Project: Improved Management to Balance Production and Conservation in Great Plains Rangelands

Location: Rangeland Resources & Systems Research

Project Number: 3012-21610-002-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Jun 3, 2018
End Date: May 20, 2019

Objective 1. Develop adaptive grazing management strategies for rangelands that balance objectives for improving livestock production and enhancing other ecosystem services under a variety of climatic conditions. Objective 2: Develop science-based decision-support tools for rangelands to aid land managers in enhancing livestock production and other ecosystem goods and services at ecological site and landscape levels. Objective 3: As part of the LTAR network, and in concert with similar long-term, land-based research infrastructure in the Central Great Plains Region, use the Central Plains Experimental Range LTAR to improve the observational capabilities and data accessibility of the LTAR network, to support research to sustain or enhance agricultural production and environmental quality in agroecosystems characteristic of the Central Great Plains, as per the LTAR site responsibilities and other information outlined in the 2011 USDA Long- LTAR Network Request for Information (RFI) to which the location successfully responded. Expand plant trait data collection and synthesis across the LTAR sites to provide more robust mechanistic explanations of plant responses to management strategies and climate change. Objective 4: WEPS: Validate untested science incorporated into WEPS for simulations of dryland crop rotations, tillage/no-tillage, organic soils, and residue cover, including the effects of within-field variability, against experimental data, and adjust algorithms where needed. Provide technology transfer of WEPS via data stewardship, data and algorithm documentation, and continual dialogue with NRCS. Objective 5: Survey and document grazing land model decision support functions requested by ranchers and public land managers; assess the ability of currently available models to reliably and accurately provide those functions using LTAR data; and outline a strategy to achieve a highly reliable, spatially-explicit, and high temporal resolution grazing land model that will meet the requested decision support needs.

Planned research is designed to address 1) improved management to balance livestock production and conservation (e.g., wildlife habitat) in Great Plains rangelands and 2) combine decades of prior experimental data with recent advances in plant trait research to better predict which plant species will thrive as climate (directional trends in warming, length of growing season and elevated carbon dioxide) and management (grazing and fire) change. Research will largely be conducted in semiarid rangelands of the western Great Plains, with a north-south environmental gradient from sagebrush grasslands of northeastern Wyoming (Thunder Basin National Grassland), northern mixed-grass prairie of southeastern Wyoming (High Plains Grasslands Research Station), and shortgrass steppe of northern Colorado (Central Plains Experimental Range – a Long-Term Agro-Ecosystem Research, LTAR network site). Field experiments will include (1) a new collaborative adaptive grazing management experiment involving an eleven member Stakeholder Group at the Central Plains Experimental Range, (2) evaluating the influence of black-tailed prairie dogs interacting with soil texture, topography and precipitation on livestock weight gains in shortgrass steppe at the Central Plains Experimental Range, (3) determinations of effects of management and conservation practices (prescribed fire, grazing management) and other disturbances (prairie dogs, wildfire) on vegetation and soil responses for seven major ecological sites using targeted field-based sampling in sagebrush grasslands (Thunder Basin National Grassland). For LTAR, will 1) refurbish 4 existing microwatersheds with new flumes, instrumentation, soil water devices and rain gauges, 2) install soil water monitoring in areas with biomass production plots, 3) expand GPS and pedometer monitoring of livestock grazing behavior, 4) increase sampling of phenology, plant traits and net primary productivity, and 5) install at least 2 Eddy Covariance towers for energy, water and carbon flux/balance measurements. Will develop science-based, region-specific information and technologies for agricultural and natural resource managers that enable climate-smart decision-making and where possible provide assistance to enable land managers to implement those decisions with work conducted as the Northern Plains USDA Climate Change Hub. Will predict how climate will interact with management to influence species composition and function using >25 plant functional traits of 60 species in two grassland ecosystems as plant species composition is the basis for production potential and most ecosystem services derived from rangeland ecosystems. We will then combine trait data with existing species composition data from long-term experiments to determine how management and climate will influence functional traits and therefore ecosystem services in western Great Plains rangelands.