USDA-ARS Jornada Experimental Range Project Plan

Management Technologies for Conservation of Western Rangelands
2013 - 2017

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Project Summary
The goal of the Jornada is to develop ecologically based knowledge systems and technologies for management, conservation, monitoring, and assessment of western rangelands. Our longterm research objective is to increase understanding of the fundamental relationships among management practices, ecological processes, and climatic variability to improve rangeland production, conservation, and restoration. Two key challenges for expanding rangeland capacities are sustaining production while maintaining desirable conditions and restoring capacities of degraded rangelands. For rangelands to achieve their full potential in meeting food security and other ecosystem services objectives, appropriate practices for use, conservation, and restoration must be strategically tailored to the specific conditions of a particular site. Our research plan contains five objectives designed to produce technologies to address regional and national concerns relevant to major land resource areas across the western U.S. We will build upon hundreds of existing data sets from our field station and collaborating sites. We will integrate short- and long-term data sets with simulation modeling, geographic information systems, and remote sensing tools. We will combine short-term experiments to test specific hypotheses with synthetic experiments requiring a complex integration of ecosystem components and drivers. Decision-support tools resulting from this work are intended to meet the needs of public and private land managers, be adaptable across temporal and spatial scales, and be usable for assessing, monitoring, and implementing conservation practices. This is an ambitious proposal that reflects the singular efforts of a collaborative, interdisciplinary group of 10 ARS scientists based at the Jornada working towards a common goal.

Objectives
The goal of the Research Unit based at the Jornada is to develop ecologically based knowledge systems and technologies for management, conservation, monitoring, and assessment of western rangelands. We will develop these knowledge systems and technologies through field experimentation with an increasing emphasis on syntheses of long-term, historical data, and development of landscape-specific ecological models applicable within major land resource areas (MLRAs) of the U.S.

The conceptual framework for our research program (Fig. 1) is based on the notion that ecological sites--kinds of land that differ in potential plant communities and responses to management--provide a useful basis to conduct research on key ecological processes operating within rangelands and to inform management based on that knowledge (USDA-NRCS 2003, Bestelmeyer et al. 2003, 2009). Ecological sites are recognizable, repeating land units that occur within a MLRA (i.e., a region with similar physiography, weather patterns, and land uses) and serve as a framework for explaining historic, current, and future vegetation state changes (USDA-NRCS 2003, Bestelmeyer et al. 2004, 2009, Steele et al. 2012). Spatial and temporal variation in state changes are the result of temporal context and environmental drivers (e.g., precipitation, temperature, human activities) interacting with spatial context (patch characteristics, adjacency, contingency), transport vectors (wind, water, animals), and the soil geomorphic template (soils, landforms) to influence resource redistribution within and across a range of scales, from individual plants to groups of plants and landscape units (Fig. 1a). These variations are represented for management applications via ecological site concepts, soil and vegetation spatial data, and state and transition models developed for specific ecological sites and groups of sites (USDA-NRCS 2003, Bestelmeyer et al. 2003, 2004, 2011b, Briske et al. 2008). Because ecological sites are already widely recognized in the management community, they provide a useful basis for science-management linkages and the judicious extrapolation of scientific results. The Research Unit based at the Jornada has developed research objectives that couple this framework to expected products and outcomes (Fig. 1b). All elements of Figure 1b are directly linked to our project objectives.

During the next five years we will focus on the following objectives and subobjectives based upon this conceptual framework and rationale:

Objective 1: Develop data-driven approaches in the production of ecological site descriptions that guide rangeland conservation and management practices within MLRAs of the western U.S., including New Mexico, Arizona, Oregon, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Oklahoma.

  • Subobjective 1A: Produce new approaches for and examples of data-driven ecological site description and state-and-transition model development using analysis of inventory, historical, experimental, and monitoring data, augmented by local knowledge. (Bestelmeyer, Havstad, Herrick, Peters, Vacant Rangeland Mgmt)
  • Subobjective 1B: Create and populate a national database of ecological dynamics to be used in guiding national ecological site description development and as a mechanism for stakeholder communication, including specific efforts in MLRAs of New Mexico, Arizona, Oregon, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Oklahoma. (Bestelmeyer, Havstad, Herrick, Vacant Rangeland Mgmt)

Objective 2: Improve techniques, including remotely sensed methodologies, for rangeland monitoring and assessment applicable to landscapes within MLRAs, and more broadly for regional and national scales of assessment.

  • Subobjective 2A: Develop and evaluate innovative approaches for remotely monitoring land surface conditions in order to improve existing and develop new methods for rangeland monitoring across a range of spatial scales. (Herrick, Rango, Vacant Soil Science, Vacant Rangeland Mgmt)
  • Subobjective 2B: Develop innovative, integrated, and flexible inventory, assessment, and monitoring techniques and the decision support tools necessary to implement these approaches at local to national scales. (Herrick, Vacant Soil Science, Vacant Rangeland Mgmt, Bestelmeyer, Havstad)

Objective 3: Evaluate effectiveness of historic, current, and new grassland restoration practices for dominant ecological sites within specific MLRAs of New Mexico, Arizona, Oregon, and Wyoming. 

  • Subobjective 3A: Design and implement new studies and analyze experimental data from conservation management practices and grazing management efforts on public and private lands in MLRA 41 and 42 of AZ and NM, MLRA 25 in OR, and MLRAs 58B and 67B in WY with respect to multiple ecosystem services. (Bestelmeyer, Vacant Soil Science, Lucero, Havstad)

Objective 4: Evaluate livestock management practices suitable for conserving and restoring rangelands within selected MLRAs of the southwestern U.S.

  • Subobjective 4A: Evaluate grazing management practices and their relationships to ecological state changes within ecological sites in MLRAs 41 and 42 of AZ and NM. (Estell, Havstad, Anderson)
  • Subobjective 4B: Evaluate low-input livestock production strategies in MLRA 42. (Estell, Havstad, Anderson)

Objective 5: Develop mechanistically based predictions of vegetation state changes and sitebased wind erosion susceptibilities for landscapes within selected MLRAs under alternative land use-climate change scenarios.

  • Subobjective 5A: Predict climate-driven vegetation state changes for western landscapes within selected MLRAs. (Peters, Herrick)
  • Subobjective 5B: Develop and implement a wind erosion monitoring network and standardize protocols for measurement and model-based predictions of changes in horizontal and vertical dust flux on western rangelands, including areas undergoing land use change. (Herrick, Vacant Soil Science)

 


 

Project Summary
The goal of the research unit based at the Jornada Experimental Range (JER) is to develop ecologically based technologies for monitoring, remediation, and grazing management in desert environments. To achieve this goal, our overall research objective is to determine how biological, soil, and geomorphological processes interact across multiple spatial and temporal scales to affect soil development, soil stability, nutrient and water retention and acquisition, plant establishment and survival, and animal foraging behavior. Within this overall goal are four specific objectives designed to achieve ecologically based technologies with application to rangeland management:

  1. Develop an integrated assessment and monitoring approach for vegetation structure and composition, soil stability, watershed function, and biotic integrity of spatially and temporally heterogeneous rangelands at landscape, watershed, and regional scales.
  2. Identify key plant and soil processes, and environmental factors, such as landscape position, land use history, and climate, that influence the potential for remediation success.
  3. Develop adaptive strategies for livestock management across multiple scales based on animal foraging behavior.
  4. Predict responses of ecosystem dynamics and livestock distribution across time and space to changes in climate and other management-dependent and -independent drivers, and develop an integrated management, monitoring, and knowledge toolbox that can be easily applied by individuals with a range of management experience, from minimal to extensive.

We will build upon information collected since 1912, complemented with ongoing and new research, to address our objectives. We will integrate short- and long-term data sets with simulation modeling, geographic information systems, and remote sensing tools. Our approach will combine short-term experiments to test specific hypotheses with synthetic experiments requiring a more complex integration of ecosystem components and drivers. Although this is an ambitious proposal, it reflects the singular efforts of a collaborative, interdisciplinary group of 11 ARS scientists at the JER working towards a common goal.