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The broad-scale assessment of natural resource conditions (e.g., rangeland health, restoration needs) requires knowledge of their spatial distribution. We argue that creating a database that links state-and-transition models (STMs) to spatial units is a valuable management tool for structuring ground-based observations, management planning for landscapes, and for housing information on the responses of land areas to management actions. To address this need, we introduce a multifactor classification system based on ecological sites and STMs that is directly linked to recent concepts of vegetation dynamics in rangelands. We describe how this classification was used as a basis for creating a spatial database and maps of ecological states. We provide an example of how the classification and mapping has been applied in over 1.2 million ha of public rangelands in southern New Mexico using aerial photo interpretation supplemented with existing inventory data and rapid field assessments. The resulting state map has been used by the Bureau of Land Management: 1) to design landscape-level shrub control efforts, 2) to structure and report district-wide rangeland health assessments, and 3) to evaluate locations for energy development. We conclude by discussing options for the development of state maps and their current limitations, including the use of satellite imagery and concepts for defining states. We argue that cataloging ecological states in a spatial context has clear benefits for rangeland managers because it connects STM concepts to specific land areas. State mapping provides a means to generate and store spatially explicit data resulting from tests of the propositions in STMs and conservation practices.
Our ability to assess the continental impacts of woody encroachment remains compromised by the paucity of studies quantifying regional encroachment rates. This knowledge gap is especially apparent when it comes to quantifying the impact of woody encroachment on large-scale carbon dynamics. In this study, we use a combination of aerial photography from 1985–1986 and 2005 and near-annual Landsat satellite imagery over the same period to assess the rates of encroachment by western juniper, Juniperus occidentalis Hook., into the grasslands and shrublands of eastern Oregon. The approximately 20-yr Landsat reflectance trajectories identified for the juniper woodlands of eastern Oregon did not correlate well with changes in juniper crown cover over the same period, suggesting that systematic trends in reflectance are being driven by vegetation other than juniper. Using a random sample of 150 aerial photography plots, we estimate the average aboveground accumulation of carbon in undisturbed juniper woodlands to be 2.9 kg C · m−2 · yr−1; about 0.20 Tg C · yr−1 across all of Oregon. However, juniper removal by cutting and or burning, occurring at a rate of < 1% yr−1, counteracted regional encroachment by about 35%, bringing the net change in aboveground carbon down to 1.9 kg C · m−2 · yr−1, about 0.13 Tg C · yr−1 across all of Oregon. This study illustrates the capacity of woody removal, over very small areas, to offset encroachment over very large areas and cautions against scaling site-level encroachment studies over entire regions.
In arid and semi-arid environments, where low and unpredictable rainfall is typical, establishment of perennial vegetation can be enhanced with modest increases in soil moisture. We evaluated methods for promoting shrub transplant establishment. We transplanted approximately 1 000 3-mo-old seedlings in April 2004, 2005, and 2006, using a full-factorial design with combinations of three treatments: addition of mycorrhizae spores to the root zone, addition of a hydrogel to the root zone, and placement of a wood obstruction south of the plant. We planted three shrubs: big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata Nutt. ssp. tridentate), four wing saltbush (Atriplex canescens [Pursh] Nutt.), and rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa [Pall. ex Pursh] G.L. Nesom & Baird ssp. nauseosa) in a 1.2-ha area. The summer months of 2004 and 2006 were dry, leading to low survivorship (< 1%). With higher rainfall in summer 2005, transplant survivorship was ∼18%. For the 2005 transplants, A. tridentata had the highest survivorship after one growing season (31.0%), followed by A. canescens (20.6%) and E. nauseosa (6.9%). Placing a wood obstruction near the plant was significant in the statistical model to describe short-term overall transplant survival and survival of A. tridentata. Placing hydrogel in the root zone also explained short-term overall transplant survival, as well as survival of E. nauseosa. However, by 4.5 yr after transplanting, there was no significant treatment effect on survival. Thus, for transplanting shrub seedlings on arid or semi-arid sites, we recommend some form of resource enhancement technique to increase short-term survival. In this experiment, both the obstruction and hydrogel treatments were effective. We recommend the obstruction treatment since slash is often readily available onsite, has low labor requirements and cost, and it increased transplant survival of A. tridentata, a species of conservation concern; however, other treatments may be appropriate for individual species.
Monitoring rangeland ecosystem dynamics, production, and performance is valuable for researchers and land managers. However, ecosystem monitoring studies can be difficult to interpret and apply appropriately if management decisions and disturbances are inseparable from the ecosystem's climate signal. This study separates seasonal weather influences from influences caused by disturbances and management decisions, making interannual time-series analysis more consistent and interpretable. We compared the actual ecosystem performance (AEP) of five rangeland vegetation types in the Owyhee Uplands for 9 yr to their expected ecosystem performance (EEP). Integrated growing season Normalized Difference Vegetation Index data for each of the nine growing seasons served as a proxy for annual AEP. Regression-tree models used long-term site potential, seasonal weather, and land cover data sets to generate annual EEP, an estimate of ecosystem performance incorporating annual weather variations. The difference between AEP and EEP provided a performance measure for each pixel in the study area. Ecosystem performance anomalies occurred when the ecosystem performed significantly better or worse than the model predicted. About 14% of the Owyhee Uplands showed a trend of significant underperformance or overperformance (P < 0.10). Land managers can use results from weather-based rangeland ecosystem performance models to help support adaptive management strategies.
In semiarid environments, soil water repellency can contribute to reseeding failure by reducing soil moisture availability. Nonionic soil surfactants (wetting agents) have been shown to be effective in enhancing infiltration and improving root-zone water reserves in water-repellent soils. However, the application of soil surfactants in wildland ecosystems can be logistically and economically prohibitive. In this study, we evaluated a potential solution for applying soil surfactants using seed coating technology. Through this technology, the seed is used as a carrier for the soil surfactant. After planting, water transfers the surfactant from the seed into the soil where it ameliorates the water repellency within the seed's microsite. The objectives of this research were 1) to establish the efficacy of a surfactant seed coating (SSC) in ameliorating soil water repellency, and 2) to determine the influence of SSC on seedling emergence and plant survival. To accomplish the first objective, detailed soil column experiments were conducted in the laboratory on water-repellent soil obtained from a burned pinyon-juniper (Pinus-Juniperus spp.) woodland. The second objective was met through greenhouse testing of SSC applied to crested wheatgrass and bluebunch wheatgrass seed, using the same soil as used in the first objective. Results indicate that SSC increased soil water infiltration, percolation, and retention. This technology had no influence on seedling emergence for crested wheatgrass, but SSC improved bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata [Pursh] Á. Löve) emergence threefold. Plant survival was dramatically improved by the SSC. Only 0.75% of the seedlings that grew from noncoated seed survived to the end of the study, whereas 37% of the plants survived in the SSC treatment. Overall, these results indicate that it may be plausible for SSC to improve postfire restoration efforts by restoring soil hydrologic function and increasing seedling emergence and early seedling development.
Smoke or heat from fire can act as a cue that affects seed germination. We examined germination responses of 10 plant species (six forbs, two shrubs, two grasses) native to the southern High Plains in the United States, to smoke, heat, and their interaction in a laboratory experiment. Smoke treatments were applied by soaking seeds in 1∶5, 1∶10, or 1∶100 (v/v) Regen 2000® smoke solution for 20 h. Heat treatments were applied by placing seeds in an oven at 50°C or 80°C for 5 min. Nine species responded to smoke, heat, or both. Results showed that smoke can enhance, inhibit, or not affect seed germination. Germination capacities of Gutierrezia sarothrae (Pursh) Britton & Rusby and Astragalus crassicarpus Nutt. were promoted by 1∶5 and 1∶100 dilutions of smoke water, respectively; Coreopsis tinctoria Nutt., G. sarothrae, Salvia reflexa Hornem., Digitaria ciliaris (Retz.) Koeler, and Panicum virgatum L. were inhibited by high and/or moderate concentrations of smoke water either in germination percentage or in mean germination time. Germination percentage of Solanum elaeagnifolium Cav. increased following an 80°C heat treatment. Interaction effects between smoke and heat on germination also were detected. Smoke and heat treatments might be useful as management tools for promoting or suppressing specific target species of shortgrass prairie communities in future habitat management.
A decrease in fire frequency and past grazing practices has led to dense mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata Nutt. subsp. vaseyana [Rydb.] Beetle) stands with reduced herbaceous understories. To reverse this trend, sagebrush-reducing treatments often are applied with the goal of increasing herbaceous vegetation. Mechanical mowing is a sagebrush-reducing treatment that commonly is applied; however, information detailing vegetation responses to mowing treatments generally are lacking. Specifically, information is needed to determine whether projected increases in perennial grasses and forbs are realized and how exotic annual grasses respond to mowing treatments. To answer these questions, we evaluated vegetation responses to mowing treatments in mountain big sagebrush plant communities at eight sites. Mowing was implemented in the fall of 2007 and vegetation characteristics were measured for 3 yr post-treatment. In the first growing season post-treatment, there were few vegetation differences between the mowed treatment and untreated control (P > 0.05), other than sagebrush cover being reduced from 28% to 3% with mowing (P < 0.001). By the second growing season post-treatment, perennial grass, annual forb, and total herbaceous vegetation were generally greater in the mowed than control treatment (P < 0.05). Total herbaceous vegetation production was increased 1.7-fold and 1.5-fold with mowing in the second and third growing seasons, respectively (P < 0.001). However, not all plant functional groups increased with mowing. Perennial forbs and exotic annual grasses did not respond to the mowing treatment (P > 0.05). These results suggest that the abundance of sagebrush might not be the factor limiting some herbaceous plant functional groups, or they respond slowly to sagebrush-removing disturbances. However, this study suggests that mowing can be used to increase herbaceous vegetation and decrease sagebrush in some mountain big sagebrush plant communities without promoting exotic annual grass invasion.
Conservation and restoration efforts of native grasslands are being hindered by invasive, exotic plants. Exotic bluestem grasses (Bothriochloa and Dichanthium spp.) have become increasingly invasive throughout the rangelands of the central and southern Great Plains, United States. Accordingly, the aim of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of glyphosate, imazapyr, and imazapyr glyphosate treatments with or without disking to remove exotic bluestems from a south Texas coastal prairie. We evaluated three different control regimens: 1) herbicide treatments only, 2) herbicide treatments followed by two diskings (H D), and 3) disking followed by herbicide treatments (D H). Percent exotic bluestem, native grass, and forb cover were visually estimated at 0 (pre-treatment: May 2006), 20, 52, and 104 wk after treatment (WAT). The herbicide-only and H D regimens were ineffective at controlling exotic bluestems. However, exotic bluestem cover in herbicide-treated plots of the D H regimen was significantly lower (P ≤ 0.05) compared to control plots and most treatment plots of the herbicide-only and H D regimens up to 52 WAT. Control regimens did not notably facilitate an increase in native grass cover from pre-treatment levels, but native grass cover remained the highest, and increased the most, in some imazapyr-treated plots of the herbicide-only and D H regimens, respectively. In the H D and D H regimens, disking resulted in a flush of forb cover (up to 50%) at 52 WAT; yet forb cover was ≤ 5% in these plots by 104 WAT. Exotic bluestem cover recovered back to, or was greater than, pre-treatment levels among most treatment plots across all three control regimens at 104 WAT. This study suggests that follow-up control measures are needed to suppress the re-invasion of exotic bluestems after initial control efforts. Additional studies are needed to evaluate other strategies to control exotic bluestems in rangelands of the central and southern United States.
Prescribed (or targeted) sheep grazing can effectively suppress the invasive perennial forb spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe L. ssp. micranthos [Gugler] Hayek). Some ranchers and other natural resource managers, however, resist using this weed management tool over concerns that sheep may consume too much of the graminoid standing crop, thereby decreasing its availability to cattle and wildlife and possibly harming graminoids with excessive defoliation. One potential approach to address these concerns is to graze spotted knapweed infestations first with cattle, immediately followed by sheep. We evaluated this sequential grazing strategy on foothill rangeland in western Montana, comparing sequential grazing at a moderate stocking rate in mid June (spotted knapweed in bolting stage) vs. mid July (spotted knapweed in late-bud/early flowering stage). Pastures (0.81 ha) were grazed with three yearling cattle for 7 d, immediately followed with 7 d of grazing by seven yearling sheep. Combined relative (i.e., utilization) of graminoids by cattle and sheep averaged 40% in June and July, safely within sustainable grazing use levels recommended for the site. Combined relative use of spotted knapweed by cattle and sheep also did not differ between June and July, averaging 62%. Previous research indicates that this degree of use is sufficient to suppress spotted knapweed. Our results indicate that prescribed sheep grazing can be applied immediately following cattle grazing in either June or July to suppress spotted knapweed without overusing desirable graminoids. Cattle and sheep will eat less graminoids and more spotted knapweed if cattle and sheep graze sequentially when spotted knapweed is in its late-bud/early flowering stage (mid July) rather than its bolting stage (mid June).
Half of the world's land base is grazed by domesticated livestock. Because of the important functional role of ants in grasslands, it is important to understand the effect of livestock grazing on ant abundance and diversity. The objectives of this study were to examine the effect of cattle grazing and site productivity on the abundance, species richness, and species diversity of ants in Lac du Bois Grasslands Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada. We hypothesized that the measured ant variables would be lowest in grazed areas and at low site productivity. Pitfall trapping was conducted at four sites: two at each low and high site productivity levels. At each site an ungrazed (fenced exclosure) and grazed transect was sampled during May, July, and August of 2008. Captured ants were preserved in ethanol and identified. Eight genuses of ants were collected: Tapinoma, Camponotus, Formica, Lasius, Aphaenogaster, Myrmica, Solinopsis, and Temnotharox. The mean number of ants per pitfall was higher at high site productivity sites that were grazed (15.10 ± 2.96 SE) compared to high productivity sites ungrazed (3.28 ± 0.47 SE); grazing at low productivity reduced numbers of ants from 5.07 (± 0.70 SE) to 2.20 (± 0.39 SE) (F = 21.806; P < 0.001). Tapinoma sessile and A. occidentalis had the greatest numbers in the pitfall traps. Species richness (F = 23.330, P < 0.001) and diversity (F = 11.764, P = 0.001) followed a similar trend. Because productivity and cattle grazing affect ant diversity and abundance, and ants impact ecosystem functioning, these factors should be considered in management of grasslands.
Interspecific interaction among sympatric ungulates is important in management and conservation. We investigated behavioral interference between sympatric wild or semidomestic reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus) and sheep (Ovis aries) in two field studies and one enclosure experiment. For free-ranging wild and semidomestic reindeer, interference between the two species increased with decreasing distances, occurring only at less than 200 m and 30 m, for wild and semidomestic reindeer, respectively, and neither species consistently dominated the other. In a controlled, duplicated experiment we tested interference and confrontations at the feeding patch level among semidomestic reindeer and sheep within 40 × 50 m enclosures. When new reindeer or sheep were introduced into enclosures already occupied by reindeer, new reindeer resulted in significantly more interference and confrontations among individuals compared to new sheep; i.e., intraspecific interference was more prevalent than interspecific interference at equal densities. For all study areas, confrontations decreased with time after “first encounter,” indicating cohabituation. A sympatric use of pastures was not visually disruptive for recorded grazing behavior for either species.
Frequency of large rangeland wildfires may increase in the southwestern United States and northeastern Mexico as a result of exotic grass invasion and reduced emphasis on livestock production, but effects of such fires on white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are poorly documented. A large wildfire burned > 90% of the 6 151-ha Chaparral Wildlife Management Area in southern Texas during March 2008, creating an opportunity to study short-term effects of wildfire on white-tailed deer food habits, body condition, and pregnancy. We harvested 26 female deer between 7 April and 20 June 2008 and recorded dressed body weight, body condition, number of corpora lutea, and number and size of fetuses. We used rumen contents to quantify forage classes consumed. Deer ate prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii) pads and emergent grasses during April and shifted to forbs and browse as vegetation communities recovered. Deer consumed mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) beans and prickly pear fruit during mid-June. Body condition measures did not vary during the collection period, suggesting deer were able to acquire sufficient nutrients to meet requirements. Fetal development rate appeared normal. Precipitation (11.4 cm) during late April and May probably allowed vegetation to recover from the wildfire. White-tailed deer are resilient opportunists and were able to maintain body condition and pregnancy after a large-scale wildfire.
Stocking density, both current and past, is a major determinant of the nature and condition of rangelands. Despite this fact, there have been few detailed examinations of historical trends in stocking density. We used data from the U.S. Census of Agriculture to track the density of domestic livestock from the early 1900s to the present, for six rangeland regions in the State of Texas: (1) the Edwards Plateau; (2) the Trans-Pecos; (3) the Lampasas Cut Plain; (4) the South Texas Plains; (5) the Rolling Plains; and (6) the High Plains. We find that stocking densities have declined across the state—ranging from a decline of about 40% in some regions to as much as 75% in the Trans-Pecos and Edwards Plateau regions. The period of sharpest decline, which began in the middle of the last century, reflects important, but not fully understood, socioeconomic changes. These most likely include changing land ownership, fragmentation of land holdings, and increasing emphasis on wildlife conservation. Other factors potentially contributing to the destocking of Texas rangelands include woody plant encroachment and a rise in predation. We argue that the dramatic reduction in stocking densities documented here has profound socioeconomic, ecological, and hydrological implications that need to be better understood.