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ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Range Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #382554

Research Project: Science and Technologies for the Sustainable Management of Western Rangeland Systems

Location: Range Management Research

Title: An inductive approach to developing ecological site concepts with existing monitoring data

item Heller, Alexandra
item WEBB, NICHOLAS - New Mexico State University
item Bestelmeyer, Brandon
item BRUNGARD, COLBY - New Mexico State University
item DAVIDSON, ZOE - Bureau Of Land Management

Submitted to: Rangeland Ecology and Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/21/2022
Publication Date: 5/13/2022
Citation: Heller, A., Webb, N.P., Bestelmeyer, B.T., Brungard, C.W., Davidson, Z.M. 2022. An inductive approach to developing ecological site concepts with existing monitoring data. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 83:133-148.

Interpretive Summary: We used monitoring vegetation and soil data collected on federal lands alongside geospatial data to determine what vegetation communities are present in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in northern New Mexico, and what environmental factors are important drivers of vegetation communities. We also used shrub and tree removal data to interpret the effects of vegetation treatments. Eleven unique ecosystem units were identified and each ecosystem type was associated with multiple vegetation communities. We found that climate, topography, predicted soil chemistry, and soil depth were predictive of vegetation community associations. Chemical shrub removal and mechanical shrub removal vegetation treatments produced similar vegetation communities across ecosystem units. Our results can be used to inform land management tools in northern New Mexico, and the methods we presented can be applied to similar datasets in other landscapes to investigate important links between vegetation, environment, and land use history.

Technical Abstract: Ecological sites comprise a land classification system that represents potential vegetation states and their management needs for different soils and climates. In the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument (RGdNNM) in northern New Mexico, uncertainty about the patterns and drivers of vegetation states impedes sustainable land management. Similar challenges are ubiquitous across terrestrial ecosystems and in particular landscapes with high spatial variability in soils and climate. Lack of suitable data has been a barrier to large-scale ecological site development based on quantitative observations. We used data from existing, federal monitoring programs alongside spatial, environmental, and land use data to test for the role of climate, geomorphology, soils, and land use history on vegetation communities in RGdNNM. The monitoring dataset was collected with standardized monitoring methods implemented by the Bureau of Land Management’s Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring program and the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Landscape Monitoring Framework program. Eleven ecological site concepts and paired vegetation communities were identified using multivariate fuzzy clustering and classification tree analysis to determine the influence of abiotic variables on vegetation communities. The ecological site and vegetation community concepts developed for RGdNNM demonstrate how existing monitoring data can be used to interpret the structural and functional characteristics of landscapes. An inductive workflow for applying monitoring data to landscape classification is presented to support the broader deductive framework for ecological site development.