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ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Range Management Research » Research » Research Project #445353

Research Project: Knowledge Systems and Tools to Increase the Resilience and Sustainablity of Western Rangeland Agriculture

Location: Range Management Research

Project Number: 3050-21600-001-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Sep 28, 2023
End Date: Sep 27, 2028

Objective 1: Build predictive models of the impacts of land management and climate on western rangeland systems to guide decision making. Sub-objective 1.1: Develop and test models of arid rangeland ecosystem dynamics using field experiments and remote sensing data. Sub-objective 1.2: Apply erosion models to assess interactions among vegetation, climate (e.g., drought), and management changes with land, air, and water resources at multiple scales on western rangelands. Objective 2: Develop strategies to improve environmental and economic outcomes for Southwestern livestock-based agroecosystems. Sub-objective 2.1: Create and test new strategies to supply sustainable beef from western rangelands (LTAR Common Experiment). Sub-objective 2.2: Expand manureshed solutions to recouple animal and cropland systems. Objective 3: Co-develop indicators of sustainability and climate resilience with scientists, partners, and other stakeholders. Sub-objective 3.1: Co-develop sustainability indicator framework and peer-to-peer benchmarking tool to evaluate how agricultural systems perform in relation to sustainability goals at the farm/ranch level. Sub-objective 3.2: Develop new indicators of wind erosion that can support rangeland monitoring programs, land use planning, and management through the National Wind Erosion Research Network. Sub-objective 3.3: Develop methods for establishing quantitative benchmarks to interpret indicators and assess management effectiveness to improve sustainability and climate resilience. Objective 4: Co-develop decision support tools with stakeholders to help producers adapt to changing climate across landscapes modified by water scarcity (and excess), invasive species, erosion, changes in fire frequency, and historic land degradation. Sub-objective 4.1: Build tools that connect land potential information, monitoring, local knowledge, and big data for rangeland systems to improve adaptive decision-making. Sub-objective 4.2: Work with regional partner groups and the USDA Southwest Climate Hub to understand partner decision space and co-develop, test, and refine decision-support applications and concepts. Sub-objective 4.3: Co-develop a framework for “knowledge systems” that allow scientists, producers, managers, and policymakers to easily access and apply databases, knowledge sources, models, and decision support tools to inform land management at local to global scales.

Arid and semiarid rangelands of the United States and world face accelerating changes in climate, land use, and ecosystem function. Now more than ever, livestock producers and land managers need access to locally relevant, site-specific information and tools to manage change and build resilience to achieve sustainability goals. Available information, however, is insufficient for this task because a) system-level science to predict site-specific ecosystem changes in rangelands does not exist; b) the costs and benefits of new technologies and alternative livestock production systems are unknown; c) indicators for evaluating costs and benefits of available technologies are not comprehensive; and d) stakeholders often do not have the ability to identify, select, access, and apply suitable land management decision-support tools from among the hundreds that are available. The proposed project contributes solutions to these problems through a combination of field research, research co-production with stakeholders, modeling, and tool development. We will develop spatially explicit predictive models of vegetation change, productivity, carbon dynamics, and soil erosion potential in arid rangelands that will enable precision management at fine scales. We will create cost and benefit information for existing beef supply chain options and new technologies and practices (e.g., precision ranching and circular nutrient management). Simultaneously, we will work with the Long-Term Agroecosystem Research Network to develop new, standardized approaches for measuring and using sustainability indicators for comprehensive evaluation of management alternatives. Finally, we will advance the development of knowledge systems that integrate indicator tools and information sources, and we will connect them to the decision-making needs of stakeholders via database integration and use cases in the adaptive management of large rangeland landscapes. We will maintain and leverage century-long datasets, long-term collaborations with diverse partners including the Southwest Climate Hub, and a suite of existing models and computational tools to achieve these objectives.