Incorporating hydrologic data and ecohydrologic relationships into ecological site descriptions

TitleIncorporating hydrologic data and ecohydrologic relationships into ecological site descriptions
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsWilliams CJ, Pierson FB, Spaeth K., Brown J., Al-Hamdan OZ, Weltz M.A., Nearing MA, Herrick JE, Boll J, Robichaud PR, Goodrich DC, Heilman P, D. Guertin P, Hernandez M, Wei H, Hardegree SP, Strand EK, Bates JD, Metz L, Nichols MH
JournalRangeland Ecology and Management
Start Page4
Date Published01/2016
ARIS Log Number309397
Keywordsadaptive management, ecological site, erosion, infiltration, monitoring, multiple stable states, rangeland, rangeland health, Rangeland Hydrology and Erosion Model, resilience, runoff state-and-transition models

The purpose of this paper is to recommend a framework and methodology for incorporating hydrologic data and ecohydrologic relationships in Ecological Site Descriptions (ESDs) and thereby enhance the utility of ESDs for assessing rangelands and guiding resilience-based management strategies. Resilience-based strategies assess and manage ecological state dynamics that affect state vulnerability and, therefore, provide opportunities to adapt management. Many rangelands are spatially heterogeneous or sparsely vegetated where the vegetation structure strongly influences infiltration and soil retention. Infiltration and soil retention further influence soil water recharge, nutrient availability, and overall plant productivity. These key ecohydrologic relationships govern the ecologic resilience of the various states and community phases on many rangeland ecological sites (ESs) and are strongly affected by management practices, land use, and disturbances. However, ecohydrologic data and relationships are often missing in ESDs and state-and-transition models (STMs). To address this void, we used literature to determine the data required for inclusion of key ecohydrologic feedbacks into ESDs, developed a framework and methodology for data integration within the current ESD structure, and applied the framework to a select ES for demonstrative purposes. We also evaluated the utility of the Rangeland Hydrology and Erosion Model (RHEM) for assessment and enhancement of ESDs based in part on hydrologic function. We present the framework as a broadly applicable methodology for integrating ecohydrologic relationships and feedbacks into ESDs and resilience-based management strategies. Our proposed framework increases the utility of ESDs to assess rangelands, target conservation and restoration practices, and predict ecosystem responses management. The integration of RHEM technology and our suggested framework on ecohydrologic relations expands the ecological foundation of the overall ESD concept for rangeland management and is well aligned with resilience-based, adaptive management of US rangelands. The proposed enhancement of ESDs will improve communication between private land owners and resource managers and researchers across multiple disciplines in the field of rangeland management.