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ARS Home » Plains Area » El Reno, Oklahoma » Grazinglands Research Laboratory » Agroclimate and Natural Resources Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #331402

Research Project: ADAPTING SOIL AND WATER CONSERVATION TO MEET THE CHALLENGES OF A CHANGING CLIMATE

Location: Agroclimate and Natural Resources Research

Title: Current reclamation practices after oil and gas development do not speed up succession or plant community recovery in big sagebrush ecosystems in Wyoming

Author
item Rottler, Caitlin
item BURKE, INGRID - University Of Wyoming
item PALMQUIST, KYLE - University Of Wyoming
item BRADFORD, JOHN - Us Geological Survey (USGS)
item LAUENROTH, WILLIAM - University Of Wyoming

Submitted to: Restoration Ecology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/17/2017
Publication Date: 7/17/2017
Citation: Rottler, C.M., Burke, I.C., Palmquist, K.A., Bradford, J.B., Lauenroth, W.K. 2017. Current reclamation practices after oil and gas development do not speed up succession or plant community recovery in big sagebrush ecosystems in Wyoming. Restoration Ecology. doi: 10.1111/rec.12543.

Interpretive Summary: Reclamation is an application of treatment(s) following disturbance to promote succession and accelerate the return of target conditions. Previous studies have framed reclamation in the context of succession by studying its effectiveness in re-establishing late-successional plant communities. Re-establishment of plant communities is especially important and challenging in drylands such as shrub steppe ecosystems where succession proceeds slowly. These ecosystems face threats from climate change, invasive species, altered fire regimes, and land use change. They are also frequently associated with fossil-fuel extraction and associated disturbance. As such, the need for effective reclamation after this type of energy development is great. However, past research in this field has focused on mining rather than oil and gas development. To better understand the effect of reclamation on rates of succession in dryland shrub steppe ecosystems, we sampled oil and gas wellpads and adjacent undisturbed big sagebrush plant communities in Wyoming, USA and quantified the extent of recovery for major functional types on reclaimed and unreclaimed wellpads relative to undisturbed plant communities. Reclamation increased the recovery rate for early successional types, including combined forbs and grasses and perennial grasses, but did not affect recovery rate of late successional types, particularly big sagebrush and perennial forbs. Rather, subsequent analyses showed that recovery of late successional types was affected by soil texture and time since wellpad abandonment. This is consistent with studies in other ecosystems where reclamation has been implemented, suggesting that reclamation may not help re-establish late-successional plant communities more quickly than they would re-establish naturally.

Technical Abstract: Reclamation is an application of treatment(s) following disturbance to promote succession and accelerate the return of target conditions. Previous studies have framed reclamation in the context of succession by studying its effectiveness in re-establishing late-successional plant communities. Re-establishment of plant communities is especially important and challenging in drylands such as shrub steppe ecosystems where succession proceeds slowly. These ecosystems face threats from climate change, invasive species, altered fire regimes, and land use change. They are also frequently associated with fossil-fuel extraction and associated disturbance. As such, the need for effective reclamation after this type of energy development is great. However, past research in this field has focused on mining rather than oil and gas development. To better understand the effect of reclamation on rates of succession in dryland shrub steppe ecosystems, we sampled oil and gas wellpads and adjacent undisturbed big sagebrush plant communities in Wyoming, USA and quantified the extent of recovery for major functional types on reclaimed and unreclaimed wellpads relative to undisturbed plant communities. Reclamation increased the recovery rate for early successional types, including combined forbs and grasses and perennial grasses, but did not affect recovery rate of late successional types, particularly big sagebrush and perennial forbs. Rather, subsequent analyses showed that recovery of late successional types was affected by soil texture and time since wellpad abandonment. This is consistent with studies in other ecosystems where reclamation has been implemented, suggesting that reclamation may not help re-establish late-successional plant communities more quickly than they would re-establish naturally.