• State-and-Transition Models for Heterogeneous Landscapes: A Strategy for Development and Application

      Bestelmeyer, Brandon T.; Tugel, Arlene J.; Peacock, George L.; Robinett, Daniel G.; Shaver, Pat L.; Brown, Joel R.; Herrick, Jeffrey E.; Sanchez, Homer; Havstad, Kris M. (Society for Range Management, 2009-01-01)
      Interpretation of assessment and monitoring data requires information about how reference conditions and ecological resilience vary in space and time. Reference conditions used as benchmarks are often specified via potential-based land classifications (e.g., ecological sites) that describe the plant communities potentially observed in an area based on soil and climate. State-and-transition models (STMs) coupled to ecological sites specify indicators of ecological resilience and thresholds. Although general concepts surrounding STMs and ecological sites have received increasing attention, strategies to apply and quantify these concepts have not. In this paper, we outline concepts and a practical approach to potential-based land classification and STM development. Quantification emphasizes inventory techniques readily available to natural resource professionals that reveal processes interacting across spatial scales. We recommend a sequence of eight steps for the co-development of ecological sites and STMs, including 1) creation of initial concepts based on literature and workshops; 2) extensive, low-intensity traverses to refine initial concepts and to plan inventory; 3) development of a spatial hierarchy for sampling based on climate, geomorphology, and soils; 4) stratified medium-intensity inventory of plant communities and soils across a broad extent and with large sample sizes; 5) storage of plant and soil data in a single database; 6) model-building and analysis of inventory data to test initial concepts; 7) support and/ or refinement of concepts; and 8) high-intensity characterization and monitoring of states. We offer a simple example of how data assembled via our sequence are used to refine ecological site classes and STMs. The linkage of inventory to expert knowledge and site-based mechanistic experiments and monitoring provides a powerful means for specifying management hypotheses and, ultimately, promoting resilience in grassland, shrubland, savanna, and forest ecosystems. 
    • Vegetation Responses to Prescribed Burning of Grazed Shortgrass Steppe

      Augustine, David J.; Milchunas, Daniel G. (Society for Range Management, 2009-01-01)
      Over the past century, fire has been widely suppressed in the western Great Plains, in part because of the potential negative effects on forage production for livestock. More recently, interest in the use of prescribed fire in shortgrass steppe has increased because of the potential applications for wildlife management, control of unpalatable plant species, and restoration of historic disturbance regimes. We studied the effects of prescribed burns conducted during late winter on herbaceous production, forage nitrogen content, and plant species composition of shortgrass steppe on the Pawnee National Grassland in northeastern Colorado. Late-winter burns conducted in moderately grazed sites under a wide range of precipitation conditions during 1997-2001 did not negatively affect herbaceous production in either the first or the second postburn growing season. Burning followed by a severe drought in 2002 reduced production by 19% in the second postburn growing season of 2003. Burns temporarily suppressed the abundance of broom snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae) and prickly pear cactus (Opuntia polyacantha) and enhanced forage nitrogen content during May and June of the first postburn growing season. These findings suggest that, except following severe drought, prescribed burns conducted during late winter in grazed shortgrass steppe for objectives unrelated to livestock production can also have neutral or positive consequences for livestock.