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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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

Location: Rangeland Resources Research

Project Number: 3018-21610-001-00
Project Type: Appropriated

Start Date: Jun 03, 2013
End Date: Jun 02, 2018

Objective:
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. (C1, PS A.2: NP215 Action Plan) Sub-objective 1.1 – Determine the contribution of adaptive grazing management to provision of ecosystem goods and services in the western Great Plains. Sub-objective 1.2 – Determine the influence of black-tailed prairie dogs on provision of ecosystem goods and services in the western Great Plains. Enhancement: Adaptive grazing management strategies for utilizing late fall and early spring livestock grazing to control the invasive, annual grass cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) in northern mixed-grass prairie will be investigated. 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. (C1, PS C.1: NP215 Action Plan) Sub-objective 2.1 – Determine the influence of prior management and conservation practices on vegetation and soil responses for seven widespread ecological sites in the western Great Plains. Key findings will be used to enhance state-and-transition models (decision-support tools) for major ecological sites in the western Great Plains. Sub-objective 2.2 – Determine relationships between livestock weight gains and climatic variability across multiple temporal scales. Relationships will be incorporated into decision-support tools to enhance predictive capacity and reduce risk for livestock producers in the western Great Plains. Enhancement: The work will be conducted as the Northern Plains USDA Climate Change Hub and will be coordinated with NRCS, FS, and other USDA and non-USDA organizations in accordance with guidance found in the USDA Climate Change Hubs Charter, and Terms of Reference. 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. (C3, PS 3A, 3D, and 3E; C4, PS 4C and 4D: NP212 Action Plan; C4, PS 4.2, NP211 Action Plan) Enhancement: 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.

Approach:
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.

Last Modified: 6/29/2016
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