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ARS Home » Plains Area » Fort Collins, Colorado » Center for Agricultural Resources Research » Rangeland Resources & Systems Research » Research » Research Project #434727

Research Project: Identifying Mechanisms of Rangeland Drought Resilience: Management Strategies for Sustainable Ecosystem Health

Location: Rangeland Resources & Systems Research

Project Number: 3012-21610-003-019-R
Project Type: Reimbursable Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: May 1, 2018
End Date: Apr 30, 2024

The objectives of the proposed research are to 1) assess cross-rangeland patterns of resiliency of forage production/quality after extreme drought, and to 2) evaluate management strategies to maximize resiliency and sustainability of forage production/quality after extreme drought. We will identify mechanisms of resiliency and sustainability by monitoring both the direct effects of drought and management on rangeland health as well as indirect effects through soil health and plant community dynamics. Dr. Porensky will be specifically responsible for evaluating these objectives at the Central Plains Experimental Range and, in collaboration with ARS Scientists from Miles City, MT, at the Thunder Basin National Grassland in NE Wyoming.

Here we propose to experimentally manipulate rangeland management strategies and drought severity to identify grazing practices that optimize drought resilience and long-term sustainability of rangeland function. More specifically, we will impose two years of drought followed by three years of drought recovery at three US grasslands, which span a latitudinal gradient from shortgrass prairie in northern Colorado to northern mixedgrass prairie in eastern Montana. During the drought period, we will impose a gradient of drought magnitudes (0, 25, 50, 75, and 100% rainfall reduction) from March-September. During the recovery period, three different management strategies would be crossed, factorially, with the drought gradient: cattle stocking directly after drought, 1 year rest after drought, 2 year rest after drought. Throughout the experiment, we will monitor forage production and quality, plant species and functional composition, and soil nutrients and microbial communities. Dr. Porensky will be responsible for managing a full-time technician who will set up the project, collect data, enter data, and conduct preliminary analyses for sites at CPER and at the Thunder Basin National Grassland. A post-doc will be employed for 4 months during year 1 to assist with project set-up. This post-doc will be primarily responsible for developing landowner collaborations, selecting sites for the study, and purchasing and installing project infrastructure.