Vegetation, soil, and animal indicators of rangeland health

TitleVegetation, soil, and animal indicators of rangeland health
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1998
AuthorsWhitford WG, de Soyza A.G., Van Zee J, Herrick JE, Havstad K
JournalEnvironmental Monitoring Assessment
Date PublishedJune 1, 1998
Accession NumberJRN00267
ARIS Log Number098850

We studied indicators of rangeland health on benchmark sites with long, well documented records of protection from stress by domestic livestock or histories of environmental stress and vegetation change. We measured ecosystem properties (metrics) that were clearly linked to ecosystem processes. We focused on conservation of soil and water as key processes in healthy ecosystems, and on maintenance of biodiversity and productivity as important functions of healthy ecosystems. Measurements from which indicators of rangeland health were derived included: sizes of unvegetated patches, cover and species composition of perennial grasses, cover and species composition of shrubs and herbaceous perennials, soil slaking, and abundance and species composition of the bird fauna. Indicators that provided an interpretable range of values over the gradient from irreversibly degraded sites to healthy sites included: bare patch index, cover of long-lived grasses, palatability index, and weighted soil surface stability index. Indicators for which values above a threshold may serve as an indicator of rangeland health include: cover of plant species toxic to livestock, cover of exotic species, and cover of increaser species. Several other indicator metrics were judged not sensitive nor interpretable. Examples of application of rangeland health indicators to evaluate the success of various restoration efforts supported the contention that a suite of indicators are required to assess rangeland health. Bird species diversity and ant species diversity were not related to the status of the sample site and were judged inadequate as indicators of maintenance of biodiversity.