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ARS Home » Plains Area » Mandan, North Dakota » Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #323124

Research Project: New Technologies to Enhance Sustainability of Northern Great Plains Grasslands

Location: Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory

Title: A century of grazing: The value of long-term research

Author
item Sanderson, Matt
item Liebig, Mark
item Hendrickson, John
item Kronberg, Scott
item Toledo, David
item Derner, Justin
item Reeves, Justin

Submitted to: Journal of Soil and Water Conservation
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/19/2015
Publication Date: 1/5/2016
Publication URL: http://handle.nal.usda.gov/10113/61866
Citation: Sanderson, M.A., Liebig, M.A., Hendrickson, J.R., Kronberg, S.L., Toledo, D.N., Derner, J.D., Reeves, J.L. 2016. A century of grazing: The value of long-term research. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 71(1):5A-8A.

Interpretive Summary: Long-term research is critical to understanding the sustainability of agroecosystems. This is especially true for rangelands in an era of extreme weather, climate change, and land use change. Since its inception in 1912, the Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory (NGPRL) at Mandan, ND has focused on the ecology, management, and sustainability of native rangeland. A century ago, a small group of scientists at the NGPRL set out to answer a very practical question: how many acres of native prairie does it take to support a steer during the grazing season? To answer that question they began a stocking rate study in 1915 on 250 acres of native mixed-grass prairie. Part of that original experiment continues today as one of the longest running grazing experiments in North America. In addition to answering the original question, scientists gathered some of the first data on grazing resilience of native grasses, determined the critical role of soil moisture in maintaining rangeland productivity on the semi-arid northern plains, and generated applied ecological insights on the persistence and resilience of native prairie during the worst drought of the last millennium. Leveraging existing long-term data with formation of national research networks will ensure our research is still relevant in 100 years.

Technical Abstract: A century ago, a small group of scientists at Mandan, ND set out to answer a very practical question: how many acres of native prairie does it take to sustainably support a steer during the grazing season? Part of that original experiment continues today as one of the longest running experiments in North America. In addition to answering the original question, scientists gathered some of the first data on grazing resilience of native grasses, determined the critical role of soil moisture in maintaining rangeland productivity on the semi-arid northern plains, and generated applied ecological insights on the persistence and resilience of native prairie during the worst drought of the last millennium. This long-term study continues to serve as a unique and valuable resource. Important long-term ecological and resource management questions such as vegetation, soil, and cattle weight gain changes with respect to weather, management, etc., simply cannot be answered with short-term data. Leveraging existing long-term data with formation of the Long-Term Agro-Ecosystem network and the National Ecological Observatory Network can allow us to peer into the future of the northern Great Plains. The question in the 21st century is a similar one: How do we sustainably intensify agroecosystems in an era of climatic and social changes? Our challenge is to exhibit the same foresight of Sarvis and other scientists to develop research that is still relevant in 100 years.