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ARS Home » Plains Area » Fort Collins, Colorado » Center for Agricultural Resources Research » Rangeland Resources & Systems Research » Research » Research Project #436575

Research Project: Adaptive Grazing Management and Decision Support to Enhance Ecosystem Services in the Western Great Plains

Location: Rangeland Resources & Systems Research

Project Number: 3012-21610-003-00-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: May 21, 2019
End Date: May 20, 2024

Objective:
Objective 1-Determine the potential for adaptive grazing management to enhance beef production, vegetation heterogeneity, grassland bird conservation, carbon/energy/water balance, and soil health in western Great Plains rangelands. Subobjective 1.1–Compare responses of livestock, wildlife, plants, and soils to adaptive grazing management and traditional grazing management. Subobjective 1.2–Determine the contribution of flexible stocking strategies, adjusted annually based on forecasted weather and forage availability, to the sustainable intensification of livestock production. Subobjective 1.3–Determine the contribution of genetic variability (source population) in livestock, and its interaction with environmental variability and management strategies, to variability in livestock performance. Objective 2-Evaluate the impacts of droughts and deluges on shrub-grass interactions and carbon/energy/water fluxes and balances; learn how livestock management affects these responses. Subobjective 2.1–Quantify the effects of precipitation variability, extreme events (seasonal to multi-year droughts and individual deluges), topoedaphic variation, and livestock management on forage, livestock production, and carbon/energy/water fluxes. Subobjective 2.2–Evaluate the effects of increased interannual and intraannual precipitation variability and soil texture on grass-shrub competition, plant production, and forage quality. Objective 3-Identify temporal windows for spring grazing of cheatgrass to increase invasion resistance and forage production. Subobjective 3.1–Quantify temporal patterns of cattle consumption of cheatgrass and native, cool-season perennial grasses. Predict ideal grazing windows from associated measurements of climate, plant phenology, and forage quality. Subobjective 3.2–Test the utility of predicted grazing windows for controlling cheatgrass and increasing forage production. Objective 4-Evaluate where, when, and to what extent prairie dogs suppress livestock production in western Great Plains rangelands by altering forage resources and livestock foraging behavior. Subobjective 4.1–Quantify relationships between cattle weight gains and prairie dog abundance at pasture scales, at multiple sites, and across multiple years. Subobjective 4.2–Evaluate whether spatiotemporal patterns of livestock foraging can explain the mechanisms by which prairie dog abundance and distribution affect livestock weight gains. Objective 5-Provide land managers with information and decision tools needed to maintain profitability and environmental sustainability, and reduce risk to livestock operations in a changing climate. Subobjective 5.1–Simulate effects of adaptive grazing management on forage and livestock production in a spatially and temporally complex rangeland ecosystem; use simulations to explore alternative scenarios for stakeholder decision making. Subobjective 5.2-Evaluate the Wind Erosion Prediction System (WEPS) model at site and regional scales of rangeland agroecosystems. Subobjective 5.3-Develop interactive learning experiences and social networks to enhance stakeholder capacity for risk management and adaptation in a changing climate.

Approach:
Semiarid rangelands of the western Great Plains simultaneously support livestock production and other ecosystem services such as wildlife habitat and soil carbon storage. To enhance decision-making by managers in these complex socio-ecological systems, we must first understand processes that regulate the provision of ecosystem services. The interactive effects of climate, soils, and management on forage production, plant invasion, livestock weight gain, and wildlife habitat are poorly understood. Moreover, key tools available to rangeland managers—adjusting stocking rates to match animal demand to forage availability, and moving livestock to better utilize spatially and temporally variable forage resources—are often underutilized. Through the coordinated and interdisciplinary work of eight scientists, we propose to: 1) conduct collaborative adaptive grazing management experiments, with direct involvement of diverse stakeholders, to balance multiple ecosystem services; 2) use intensive measurements of carbon fluxes and soil water to discover how precipitation interacts with topographic and edaphic variation to influence forage productivity and cattle weight gain; 3) use site-level models and cross-site comparisons to enhance predictions of key rangeland processes, including livestock weight gain and wind erosion; and 4) enhance stakeholder capacity for risk management and adaptation in a changing climate. To help achieve these goals we will leverage extensive historical data from the western Great Plains, participate in regional/national research efforts with other ARS units (e.g., Long Term Agroecosystem Research Network, USDA Climate Hubs, Grand Challenges, National Wind Erosion Network), and actively engage university partners, livestock producers, and other stakeholders.