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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Grassland, Soil and Water Research Laboratory

Title: Climate change and North American rangelands: Assessment of mitigation and adaptation strategies

item Joyce, Linda
item Briske, David
item Brown, Joel
item Polley, Wayne
item Mccarl, Bruce
item Bailey, Derek

Submitted to: Rangeland Ecology and Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/3/2013
Publication Date: 9/23/2013
Citation: Joyce, L.A., Briske, D.D., Brown, J.R., Polley, H.W., McCarl, B.A., Bailey, D.W. 2013. Climate change and North American rangelands: Assessment of mitigation and adaptation strategies. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 66(5):512-528.

Interpretive Summary: The current directional shift in climatic conditions on Earth is anticipated to continue and to be manifest as an increase in air temperature and variability in precipitation patterns. These climatic changes may have numerous ecological impacts on the vast grazing lands (rangelands) of the western U.S. that, in turn, may affect the livelihoods and social structure of humans that depend on the services rangelands provide. The goal of this synthesis manuscript is to outline actions to mitigate for and adapt to climate change on rangelands. We conclude that there is limited capacity of rangelands to mitigate for climate change by sequestering the ‘greenhouse’ gases that are contributing to change. Gas fluxes per unit of rangeland area are sufficiently small that measurement and verification are constrained by technology and limited financial incentives. Effective adaptation strategies will involve modification to both ecological and social/production systems. Specific adaptation strategies for livestock production enterprises may include the use of more heat- or drought-tolerant livestock breeds or species, adoption of innovative pest control methods, and in extreme cases a shift in the type or location of production system or enterprise structure. Climatic variability is an inherent component of rangelands, but effectively coping with the increase in climate variability that is anticipated will require that humans alter risk perception, adopt greater flexibility of production enterprises, and modify social institutions to collectively emphasize the variability, rather than the consistency, of climatic conditions.

Technical Abstract: Current evidence and projected future climates indicate that climate change is likely to modify the function of and services supplied by rangeland ecosystems. Recent history has demonstrated that climatic variability has a strong influence on both ecological and social components of rangeland systems and that rangeland systems possess substantial capacity to adapt to climatic variability. The goal of this synthesis is to outline strategies to maintain the provisioning of ecosystem services and support enterprise viability and human livelihoods in the face of climate change. Specific objectives are to: 1) evaluate options to mitigate for climate change, 2) survey actions that individuals, enterprises, and social institutions may use to adapt to climate change, and 3) recommend adaptation actions for rangeland ecosystems that support livestock production systems. Strategies for climate change mitigation on rangelands are limited because management inputs typically are few and greenhouse gas fluxes are difficult to measure with current technology. These considerations will require that mitigating strategies be applied across expansive areas to be cost-effective. On the other hand, adaptation strategies represent a form of risk management and are numerous and diverse. Specific adaptation strategies involve modifications in grazing management, livestock breeds or species, pest management practices, enterprise structure, and even the geographic location of production systems. Many forms of adaptation relevant to rangelands can be considered 'win-win' strategies because their implementation can be justified without emphasis on pending climate change (e.g., drought planning, invasive species management). Some social-ecological systems associated with rangelands may require transformative change to produce alternative ecosystem services with novel management systems. The rangeland profession is in a pivotal position to provide leadership on this global challenge because the profession represents the intersection of management and scientific knowledge, includes diverse stakeholders who derive their livelihoods from rangelands, and advises organizations responsible for rangeland stewardship.

Last Modified: 10/17/2017
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