• Biomass Not Linked to Perennial Grass Mortality Following Severe Wildfire in the Southern High Plains

      Rideout-Hanzak, Sandra; Wester, David B.; Britton, Carlton M.; Whitlaw, Heather (Society for Range Management, 2011-01-01)
      In March 2006 the East Amarillo Complex (EAC) wildfires burned over 367 000 ha of short and mixed grass prairie of the southern High Plains, USA. We studied EAC wildfire effects on perennial grass mortality and peak standing crop on Deep Hardland and Mixedland Slopes ecological sites. Deep Hardlands were dominated by blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis H.B.K. [Griffiths]) and buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides [Nutt.] Engelm.); common species on Mixedland Slopes were little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium [Michx.] Nash.) and sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula [Michx.] Torr.) with scattered sand sagebrush (Artemisia filifolia Torr.) sometimes present. We hypothesized that perennial grass mortality would increase and standing crop would decrease following severe wildfire, and that these responses would be greater than documented prescribed fire effects. Frequency of perennial grass mortality was higher on both sites in burned areas than nonburned areas through three growing seasons following wildfire; however, standing crop was minimally affected. Results suggest that post-wildfire management to ameliorate wildfire effects is not necessary, and that wildfire effects in this area of the southern High Plains are similar to prescribed fire effects. 
    • Estimating Grass Yield on Blue Grama Range From Seasonal Rainfall and Soil Moisture Measurements

      Torell, L. Allen; McDaniel, Kirk C.; Koren, Victor (Society for Range Management, 2011-01-01)
      To estimate annual forage production from moisture conditions it is important to consider the timing and seasonality of precipitation events as well as the past history of storm events. In this study we examined this relationship using 16 yr of annual measurements of herbaceous standing crop recorded at two study sites located on the Corona Range and Livestock Research Center in central New Mexico. Our hypothesis was that end-of-season herbaceous standing crop estimations could be improved using measured soil moisture instead of seasonal accumulations of rainfall as traditionally used for yield prediction. Daily recorded and simulated soil moisture levels were used to estimate the number of days over the growing season when soil moisture by volume was at low (< 20%), intermediate (20% to 30%), or high (> 30%) levels. Defining regression equations to include either simulated or probe-recorded measures of soil moisture improved the adjusted R2 of the regression models from 46% for the rainfall model to over 60% for various soil moisture models. Key variables for explaining annual variation in herbaceous production included seasonal moisture conditions, the amount of broom snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae [Pursh] Britt. Rusby) present on the area, and the degree days of temperature accumulated over the growing season. Diurnal daily temperatures near historical averages were most advantageous for forage production. Simulated soil moisture data improved predictive grass yield estimates to a level equivalent to using onsite moisture probes to categorize daily moisture conditions. Potential exists to better predict forage conditions based on forecast information that uses soil moisture data instead of the traditional input of seasonal rainfall totals. 
    • Field Test of Digital Photography Biomass Estimation Technique in Tallgrass Prairie

      Leis, Sherry A.; Morrison, Lloyd W. (Society for Range Management, 2011-01-01)
      Fuel loading information is important for prescribed fire planning, evaluating wildfire risk, and understanding fire effects in grassland. Yet fuel loads in grasslands often go unmeasured because of the time required to clip plots and process samples, as well as limited access or proximity to a drying oven. We tested the digital photography biomass estimation technique for measuring fuel load in grasslands in two national parks in the eastern Great Plains. The method consists of using percentage image obstruction, as determined by digital photography, to estimate vegetation biomass based on a linear transformation (i.e., regressing dry clipped weights against percent digital obstruction). We used the technique with some modification and measured digital obstruction at two sites at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, Missouri (WICR), and three sites at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Kansas (TAPR). The method did not result in strong correlations at either of the two sites at WICR (Site 1: r2 = 0.02; Site 2: r2 = 0.32), but performed relatively well at TAPR (Site 1 [< 1 yr since burn]: r2 = 0.82; Site 2 [2 yr since burn]: r2 = 0.57; Site 3 [1 yr since burn]: r2 = 0.88). Linear regressions for the three sites at TAPR did not differ in slope (P > 0.05). In general, the denser the vegetation, the weaker the relationship between the vegetation biomass of clip plots and the percentage image obstruction of digital images. The digital photography technique may not be useful for estimating fuel loads in grasslands with relatively high biomass (> 80 g 0.1 m-2) or digital image obstruction > 50%. Large amounts of litter may also potentially reduce the accuracy of the technique. 
    • Grazing Deferment Effects on Forage Diet Quality and Ewe Performance Following Summer Rangeland Fire

      Waterman, Richard C.; Vermeire, Lance T. (Society for Range Management, 2011-01-01)
      Complete rest or grazing deferment is a general recommendation to encourage vegetative recovery following fire in the western United States. However, effects of grazing deferments on animal performance have not been determined. Prescribed fires were individually applied to nine separate, 1.5-ha pastures each year (2006 and 2007) for a total of 18 pastures. Grazing was deferred until spring (16 May), early summer (19 June), or late summer (1 August) the growing season after fire. At the end of each deferment, a 70-d (2007) or 41-d (2008) grazing period was initiated. Stocking rates were consistent between treatments within year, but were adjusted between years to achieve the targeted residual biomass of approximately 300 kg ha-1. Diet quality was assessed approximately every 15 d throughout each grazing period (three pastures period-1) via collection of rumen extrusa throughout the 2-yr study. Ewe body weight was measured on and off-test for each grazing period. Diet extrusa samples for in vitro organic matter disappearance was less (P = 0.03) for late summer than early summer grazing periods and equal to the spring period (62.9, 64.6, and 61.0 +/- 0.90%, respectively for spring, early summer, and late summer grazing periods). In vitro neutral detergent fiber disappearance decreased (P = 0.01) by 10.6 percentage units from early grazing to late grazing period in 2007, whereas no differences were observed in 2008. Ewe average daily gain did not differ between spring and early summer grazing periods and were greater (P = 0.03) than the negligible body weight gains of the late summer grazing period. Total gain was 10.9 kg ha-1 greater in 2008, and a quadratic response was measured for grazing period in 2007. Results indicate that deferment until early summer may be preferable so that stocking rates can be more accurately determined and animal performance is not diminished. 
    • Growing-Season Disturbance in Tallgrass Prairie: Evaluating Fire and Grazing on Schizachyrium scoparium

      Limb, Ryan F.; Fuhlendorf, Samuel D.; Engle, David M.; Kerby, Jay D. (Society for Range Management, 2011-01-01)
      Historically, fire occurred throughout the year in the Great Plains, but current fire prescriptions are generally limited to the dormant season because of concerns for potential damage to fire-sensitive herbaceous plant species deemed economically and ecologically important. We coupled a field-based study and a controlled greenhouse study to quantify the effects of fire season and herbivory on plant species composition, along with survival and productivity of little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium [Michx.] Nash). We investigated the effects of both dormant and growing-season fire interacting spatially with grazing on plant community composition in a 10-yr field study. We also examined the influence of both growing-season fire and clipping on survival and aboveground and belowground production of potted little bluestem plants at multiple ages in a controlled greenhouse experiment. Plants were grown to 6 wk, 10 wk, or 18 wk, then either burned or clipped, followed by as many as two successive clipping events. Plant community composition and canopy cover of little bluestem were unaffected by season-of- burning in the field study. Survival of individual little bluestem seedlings in the greenhouse study was dependent primarily on plant age, with nearly 100% survival among all burning and clipping treatments at 18 wk old. Burning or clipping once did not decrease survival compared to seedlings that were not burned or not clipped, and burning followed by clipping did not decrease survival over multiple clipping events among 6-wk-, 10-wk-, or 18-wk-old plants. Both aboveground regrowth and belowground biomass increased with burning, but clipping reduced regrowth. Based on both field and greenhouse experiments, we conclude that little bluestem is well adapted to growing-season disturbance. Moreover, little bluestem responds more positively to growing-season fire than to clipping. Our results provide no evidence that little bluestem should be deferred from grazing after burning as part of a rangeland management strategy. 
    • LiDAR-Based Classification of Sagebrush Community Types

      Sankey, Temmulen Tsagaan; Bond, Pamela (Society for Range Management, 2011-01-01)
      Sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) communities constitute the largest temperate semidesert in North America and provide important rangelands for livestock and habitat for wildlife. Remote sensing methods might provide an efficient method to monitor sagebrush communities. This study used airborne LiDAR and field data to measure vegetation heights in five different community types at the Reynolds Creek Experimental Watershed, southwestern Idaho: herbaceous-dominated, low sagebrush (Artemisia arbuscula) -dominated, big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata spp.) -dominated, bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) -dominated, and other vegetation community types. The objectives were 1) to quantify the correlation between field-measured and airborne LiDAR- derived shrub heights, and 2) to determine if airborne LiDAR-derived mean vegetation heights can be used to classify the five community types. The dominant vegetation type and vegetation heights were measured in 3 X 3 m field plots. The LiDAR point cloud data were converted into a raster format to generate a maximum vegetation height map in 3-m raster cells. The regression relationship between field-based and airborne LiDAR-derived shrub heights was significant (R2 = 0.77; P value < 0.001). An analysis of variance test with all pairwise post hoc comparisons indicated that LiDAR-derived vegetation heights were significantly different among all vegetation community types (all P values < 0.01), except for herbaceous-dominated communities compared to low sagebrush-dominated communities. Although LiDAR measurements consistently underestimated vegetation heights in all community types, shrub heights at some locations were overestimated due to adjacent taller vegetation. We recommend for future studies a smaller rasterized pixel size that is consistent with the target vegetation canopy diameter. 
    • Long-Term Effects of Weed Control With Picloram Along a Gradient of Spotted Knapweed Invasion

      Ortega, Yvette K.; Pearson, Dean E. (Society for Range Management, 2011-01-01)
      Broadleaf herbicides are commonly used in rangelands to suppress exotic weeds and release native communities from negative impacts of invasion. However, few studies have comprehensively evaluated treatment effects on differing community components across a gradient of initial invasion levels. We conducted a 6-yr experiment within grasslands of western Montana to measure local- scale effects of a broadcast application of picloram on 1) cover of the target invader, spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe L.), 2) prevalence of native functional groups, and 3) the secondary invader cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum L.) at differing initial levels of knapweed invasion. Treatment effectively suppressed knapweed, with cover in treated vs. control plots reduced by > 60% in the sixth posttreatment year. Treatment also appeared to alleviate knapweed’s impacts on native perennial grasses, but only at the highest initial level of invasion, where cover of this group increased by > 30% in treated vs. control plots to equal levels associated with noninvaded plots. In some cases, treatment appeared to exacerbate knapweed’s impacts on native forbs. At the no-invasion level, perennial forb cover declined by > 20% in treated vs. control plots to match values associated with moderate or high levels of invasion, but these treatment effects were minimal at the latter invasion levels. Across initial invasion levels, species richness of perennial and/or annual forbs declined by > 20% in treated vs. control plots. Treatment also promoted increases in cheatgrass cover, although differences between treated and control plots were relatively small by the sixth posttreatment year. Overall, effects of picloram application depended on initial levels of knapweed invasion, largely due to the varying strength of release effects. Selective treatment of invaded patches vs. broadcast applications would reduce side effects of broadleaf herbicide application and increase compatibility with other management measures designed to improve rangeland conditions and restore grassland communities. 
    • Long-Term Vegetation Trends on Grazed and Ungrazed Chihuahuan Desert Rangelands

      Molinar, Francisco; Navarro, Joe; Holechek, Jerry; Galt, Dee; Thomas, Milt (Society for Range Management, 2011-01-01)
      Long-term information on the effects of managed grazing versus excluded grazing effects on vegetation composition of desert rangelands is limited. Our study objectives were to evaluate changes in frequency of vegetation components and ecological condition scores under managed livestock grazing and excluded livestock grazing over a 38-yr period at various locations in the Chihuahuan Desert of southwestern New Mexico. Sampling occurred in 1962, 1981, 1992, 1998, 1999, and 2000. Range sites of loamy (1), gravelly (2), sandy (2), and shallow sandy (2) soils were used as replications. Black grama (Bouteloua eriopoda Torr.) was the primary vegetation component at the seven locations. Dyksterhuis quantitative climax procedures were used to determine trends in plant frequency based on a 1.91-cm loop and rangeland ecological condition scores. Frequency measures of total perennial grass, black grama, tobosa (Hilaria mutica Buckley), total shrubs, honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa Torr.), and other vegetation components were similar on both grazed and ungrazed treatments (P > 0.1) at the beginning and end of the study. The amount of change in rangeland ecological condition scores was the same positive increase (14%) for both grazed and ungrazed treatments. Major changes (P<0.1) occurred within this 38-yr study period in ecological condition scores and frequency of total perennial grasses and black grama in response to annual fluctuations in precipitation. Based on this research, managed livestock grazing and excluded livestock grazing had the same long-term effects on change in plant frequency and rangeland ecological condition; thus, it appears that managed livestock grazing is sustainable on Chihuahuan desert rangelands receiving over 25 cm annual precipitation. 
    • Performance of Sheep and Goats Fed Arctostaphylos canescens With and Without Polyethylene Glycol Supplementation

      Narvaez, Nelmy; Brosh, Arieh; Mellado, Miguel; Pittroff, Wolfgang (Society for Range Management, 2011-01-01)
      Arctostaphylos canescens Eastw. is considered an important element in the chaparral fire matrix and an invasive plant in coniferous forest plantations in California. Previous studies reported that dry matter intake of Arctostaphylos was low, presumably because of its low nutritional quality and high condensed tannin (CT) content. We hypothesized that intake and digestibility of Arctostaphylos could be increased by the provision of a tannin-complexing agent polyethylene glycol (PEG). This study determined the effects of PEG (MW 4000) supplementation on intake (I) and digestibility (D) of Arctostaphylos in goats and sheep. Polyethylene glycol was added to drinking water at four levels (0.3%, 0.15%, 0.05%, and 0%) of body weight (BW). Alfalfa pellets were used as diet supplement at 1.5% of BW. Nutritional quality of Arctostaphylos was low as compared with alfalfa pellets. Arctostaphylos crude protein (CP) levels were low (4.5% vs. 17.9%) and CT concentration was high (23.1% vs. 0%), whereas estimates of in vitro organic matter digestibility (OMD, 36.6%) and metabolizable energy (5.1 MJ kg-1 dry matter [DM]) in Arctostaphylos were almost half of those found for alfalfa pellets (70.3% and 9.5 MJ kg-1 DM). A curvilinear increase (P < 0.05) in nutrient intake (per g d-1 and per kg BW 0.75) was observed in goats and sheep as PEG levels increased, although a linear increase (P<0.001) was observed in CP intake (g d-1) of Arctostaphylos by goats. Addition of PEG curvilinearly increased (P < 0.05) digestibility of DM, CP, and neutral and acid detergent fiber, but quadratically increased (P < 0.05) that of OM in goats and sheep. Incorporation of PEG in drinking water at the level of 0.15% BW in sheep and goats was effective to maximize inactivation of CT in Arctostaphylos. However, the success in adopting this practice as a useful tool in vegetation management programs will depend on the cost-benefit ratio. 
    • Plant Age and Growing Season Nutritional Content Relationships of Three Artemisia tridentata Subspecies

      Perryman, Barry L.; Shenkoru, Teshome; Bruce, Leroy B.; Hussein, Hussein S. (Society for Range Management, 2011-01-01)
      The effect of plant age on growing season chemical compositions and rumen fermentation characteristics was determined for three subspecies of big sagebrush: basin (Artemisia tridentata [Nutt.] subsp. tridentata), mountain (A. tridentata subsp. vaseyana [Rybd.] Beetle), and Wyoming (A. tridentata subsp. wyomingensis [Beetle and Young]). In vitro dry matter (IVDMD) and organic matter (IVOMD) disappearance, ammonia nitrogen (NH3N), and volatile fatty acid (VFA) content were determined at the end of two fermentation periods (24 h and 48 h) by combining rumen inocula with age-classified vegetative samples from each sagebrush subspecies. An additional one-way analysis of variance was performed to investigate potential differences among subspecies in IVDMD, IVOMD, total VFA, and NH3N following a 48-h fermentation period. Crude protein (CP), neutral detergent fiber (NDF), acid detergent fiber (ADF), and acid detergent lignin (ADL) components were also compared among sagebrush subspecies. Age class responses were variable across the spectrum of sagebrush subspecies and response variables. Where plant age effects were indicated, the small numeric differences probably have little biological or ecological significance. Mountain sagebrush was lower in IVOMD and total VFA concentrations (P < 0.0001) than basin and Wyoming. NH3N concentration and CP were higher (P < 0.0001) in basin sagebrush than the other two subspecies, while Wyoming sagebrush was higher in NDF, ADF, and ADL than basin and mountain subspecies (P < 0.0001). NH3N concentration for all three subspecies was lower than the minimum level (20 mg 100 mL-1) required for uninhibited rumen activity. Overall, this research questions the contention that older sagebrush plants offer less nutritional value than younger ones, at least for growing season conditions. The results also provide information that can be utilized in designing supplementation strategies for domestic animals on diets with characteristically high utilization of big sagebrush. 
    • Plant Community and Soil Environment Response to Summer Fire in the Northern Great Plains

      Vermeire, Lance T.; Crowder, Jessica L.; Wester, David B. (Society for Range Management, 2011-01-01)
      Fire is an important process in many ecosystems, especially grasslands. However, documentation of plant community and soil environment responses to fire is limited for semiarid grasslands relative to that for mesic grasslands. Replicated summer fire research is lacking but necessary because summer is the natural fire season and the period of most wildfires in the western United States. We evaluated summer fire effects on soil temperature, soil moisture, aboveground biomass, root biomass, and functional group composition for 2 yr in semiarid C3-dominated northern Great Plains. Following pre-treatment measures, four 0.75-ha sites were burned during August for comparison with nonburned sites, and the experiment was repeated the next year on adjacent sites to assess weather effects. Soils were about 0.5 degreesC cooler on burned sites in the first experiment and similar in the second. Burned sites were consistently 1% drier than nonburned sites. Litter was reduced by fire but did not account for changes in soil moisture because differences occurred before the growing season. Current-year aboveground biomass and root biomass were similar between treatments, indicating productivity was resistant to summer fire. Perennial C3 grasses increased in dominance because of positive biomass responses to fire for all but the bunchgrass, Hesperostipa comata, and a reduction of annual grasses. Perennial C4 grasses were unaffected by summer fire. H. comata was resilient, with biomass on burned sites equaling nonburned sites the second growing season. Biomass was more responsive to precipitation than fire, and the fire-induced changes in species composition suggest exclusion of fire may be a greater disturbance than summer fire. 
    • Rotational Grazing Systems and Livestock Grazing Behavior in Shrub-Dominated Semi-Arid and Arid Rangelands

      Bailey, Derek W.; Brown, Joel R. (Society for Range Management, 2011-01-01)
      Rotational grazing systems (RGS) are often implemented to alleviate undesirable selective grazing by livestock. At both fine and coarse scales, livestock selectively graze individual plants, patches, communities, and landscapes. Smaller pastures, increased stocking density, and rotation allow managers to constrain livestock movement and determine season and frequency of grazing, potentially limiting selectivity and preventing repeated grazing of preferred plants. However, in arid and semi-arid rangelands, forage growth is limited primarily by precipitation rather than defoliation frequency. When soil moisture is adequate, forage is abundant and defoliation levels are typically low, and repeated, intensive defoliation of preferred plants is less likely than in more mesic areas where more consistent precipitation and soil moisture storage allows animals to establish and maintain spatial hierarchies of grazing patterns. Many southwestern rangelands contain diverse vegetation, which provides quality forage during different times of the year. These spatial and temporal patterns of forage distribution may not be amenable to manipulation with RGS. Tracking data show that livestock often alternate among locations within pasture boundaries and can opportunistically exploit areas with higher quality forage when they are available. Higher stock densities combined with higher stocking rates can increase livestock use of less preferred areas, but overall distribution patterns of intensive-rotational and extensive grazing systems are often comparable at similar stocking rates and distances from water. Management that ensures that grazing of riparian areas does not occur during the critical late summer period may be more beneficial than RGS that periodically defers livestock use throughout the grazing season. In arid and semi-arid shrublands, timely adjustments to animal numbers and practices that improve grazing distribution at regional and landscape scales are more likely to be effective in maintaining or improving rangeland health than fencing and RGS. 
    • Threshold Distinctions Between Equilibrium and Nonequilibrium Pastoral Systems Along a Continuous Climatic Gradient

      Okayasu, Tomoo; Okuro, Toshiya; Jamsran, Undarmaa; Takeuchi, Kazuhiko (Society for Range Management, 2011-01-01)
      In equilibrium environments where rainfall is relatively stable, grazing animal-vegetation dynamics are density-dependent; it is therefore appropriate to calculate carrying capacities and use them to define sustainable animal populations. In contrast, nonequilibrium environments are characterized by fluctuations in characteristics such as rainfall, resulting in fluctuations in plant biomass and in the corresponding carrying capacity. Herders adapt to such environments by moving opportunistically to pastures with better conditions. Studies since the 1990s have significantly improved our understanding of the continuity and integration of equilibrium and nonequilibrium systems. However, it remains unclear how and where such continuous, integrated rangeland systems result in qualitatively different land use patterns by local herders along a climatic gradient. Here, we developed a simple model that uses key environmental factors to predict a threshold representing the boundary between equilibrium and nonequilibrium land use systems, and we used an area of Mongolian rangeland as an example. We found a threshold in the proportion of usable pasture that corresponded to a specific range of rainfall values. Comparison of our results with previous ones supported our hypothesis about this threshold. The threshold behavior suggested that it is important to identify and monitor the boundary between equilibrium and nonequilibrium land use systems so that managers can respond to climatic change. National governments and aid agencies must understand the threshold process before they can identify focal areas where management regime change is required and propose appropriate policies that will support herders in the long term. Our study provides a simple, low-cost tool to evaluate ecosystems in this context.