• Soil Erosion Thresholds and Alternative States in Northeastern Patagonian Rangelands

      Chartier, Marcelo P.; Rostagno, César M. (Society for Range Management, 2006-11-01)
      In semiarid rangelands, continuous grazing may decrease vegetation cover, accelerating soil erosion and eventually causing a transition to an alternative, degraded state. State-and-transition models invoke process-based explanations of alternative states, but there are few examples that use empirical data on key factors and processes. We used rainfall simulation to determine 1) the relationships between soil surface characteristics and interrill erosion in 3 spatially related plant communities: stable grass with scattered shrubs (GS), degraded grass with scattered shrubs (DGS), and degraded shrub steppes (DSS), and 2) the site conservation threshold (SCT) of this rangeland. We also analyzed the effect of past erosion on soil and vegetation characteristics. In the GS, sediment production and sediment concentration were significantly lower (P<0.05) than in the DGS and the DSS.The main soil protection factors in the GS and in the DGS were perennial grass and litter cover, while in the DSS, gravel cover became the main soil protection factor. The SCT, the point at which the rate of soil erosion increases markedly, corresponded to a plant-and-litter cover close to 90% and occurred within the DGS. Although this plant community may reverse back to the conserved GS, long-term accelerated erosion may result in enough soil loss to trigger irreversible changes and prompt the transition to the DSS. The threshold underlying this transition would be reached when the A horizon is severely reduced by erosion. Under these conditions, the soil hydrological properties are affected irreversibly, preventing perennial grass establishment. While the GS represents a resource conserving plant community, desirable for both forage production and soilprotection, the DSS represents a dysfunctional state with a minimum forage value. The DGS represents an unstable and transitional community that, without management intervention to halt soil erosion, will likely change into the DSS.
    • Soil Nitrogen Availability in Tallgrass Prairie Under the Fire-Grazing Interaction

      Anderson, R. H.; Fuhlendrof, Samuel D.; Engle, David M. (Society for Range Management, 2006-11-01)
      Fire and grazing are interactive disturbance processes that are important to the structure and function of grassland ecosystems. Studies of nitrogen (N) availability report different effects following grazing and fire. However, these studies have largely neglected the spatially controlled interaction between fire and grazing. The objective of our work was to evaluate an application of the fire-grazing interaction model on N availability in a tallgrass prairie. We compared patches within a shifting mosaic landscape where each patch varied in time since focal disturbance (fire and intense grazing disturbance). We also evaluated N availability on a burned and grazed landscape where fires and moderate grazing occurred annually and uniformly across the entire landscape. These treatments were both burned and grazed where the only difference was spatial and temporal variability in fire application and grazing disturbance. Samples were collected from upland sites in May of 2003 and 2004. Total soil inorganic N (NH4+/-N + NO3-N) and a growth chamber experiment with hard red winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L. cv. Jagger) were used to evaluate potential N availability. Our study produced patterns of N availability that are more similar to studies of grazing lawns where N availability is enhanced by focal grazing than from studies of fire without grazing. Overall,our study demonstrates that fire and grazing are interactive. Unburned patches have minimal grazing pressure and low N availability. Fire-grazing interaction may provide a management alternative that enables sustainable livestock production, through increased carrying capacity in focally disturbed patches, concomitant with biological diversity in tallgrass prairie.
    • Strategic and Tactical Prediction of Forage Production in Northern Mixed-Grass Prairie

      Andales, Allan A.; Derner, Justin D.; Ahuja, Lajpat R.; Hart, Richard H. (Society for Range Management, 2006-11-01)
      Predictions of forage production derived from site-specific environmental information (e.g., soil type, weather, plant communitycomposition, and so on) could help land managers decide on appropriate stocking rates of livestock. This study assessed the applicability of the Great Plains Framework for Agricultural Resource Management (GPFARM) forage growth model for both strategic (long-term) and tactical (within-season) prediction of forage production in northern mixed-grass prairie. An improved version of the model was calibrated for conditions at the USDA-ARS High Plains Grasslands Research Station in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Long-term (1983-2001) simulations of peak standing crop (PSC) were compared to observations. Also, within-season (1983) forecasts of total aboveground biomass made for 1 March onward, 1 April onward, 1 May onward, and 1 June onward were compared to observations. The normal, driest, and wettest weather years on record (1915-1981) were used to simulate expected values, lower bounds, and upper bounds of biomass production, respectively. The forage model explained 66% of the variability in PSC from 1983 to 2001. The cumulative distribution function (CDF) derived from long-term simulated PSC overestimates cumulative probabilities for PSC.1 500 kg ha-1. The generated CDF could be used strategically to estimate long-term forage production at various levels of probability, with errors in cumulative probability ranging from 0.0 to 0.16. Within-season forecasts explained 77%-94% of biomass variability in 1983. It was shown that monthly updating of the forage forecast, with input of actual weather to date, improves accuracy. Further development and testing of the forage simulation model will focus on the interactions between forage growth, environmental perturbations (especially drought), and grazing.
    • Using Leaf Traits to Rank Native Grasses According to Their Nutritive Value

      Khaled, Raounda Al Haj; Duru, Michel; Decruyenaere, Virginie; Jouany, Claire; Cruz, Pablo (Society for Range Management, 2006-11-01)
      Leaf traits (leaf dry matter content [LDMC], specific leaf area [SLA] and leaf life span [LLS]) previously proposed to predict plant strategies for resource use, were studied to test if they can be used to rank grasses for digestible organic matter (DOM). On 14 native grass species from natural meadows in the French Pyrenees, leaf blade chemical components (fiber, cellulose, hemi-cellulose and lignin) and DOM were estimated for two growing periods using two different methods (chemical-enzymatic and Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy). The ranking of species based on LDMC, SLA and LLS was conserved. Fiber content and DOM were significantly correlated even though the data were obtained in different years (2001 and 2002), on different organs (youngest adult blades in 2001 and all the green blades of tillers in 2002) and by different analytical methods. LDMC seems to be the most suitable trait to rank native grasses according to their nutritive value because it ranks species as well as leaf traits and it is the easiest to measure. We suggest using LDMC as an indicator to rank grassland communities for herbage nutritive values.
    • Vegetation Characteristics Across Part of the Wyoming Big Sagebrush Alliance

      Davies, Kirk W.; Bates, Jonathan D.; Miller, Richard F. (Society for Range Management, 2006-11-01)
      The Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. Wyomingensis [Beetle A. Young] S.L. Welsh) alliance is the most extensive of the big sagebrush complex in the Intermountain West. This alliance provides critical habitat for many sagebrush obligate and facultative wildlife species and serves as a forage base for livestock production. There is a lack of information that describes vegetation cover values, characteristics, diversity, and heterogeneity of the Wyoming big sagebrush alliance. This study describes vegetation cover values and defines distinct associations for intact, late-seral Wyoming big sagebrush plant communities across part of its northwestern range. We sampled 107 Wyoming big sagebrush plant communities. Total herbaceous cover values were variable among sites with differences between sites exceeding 700%. Mean sagebrush cover was 12.3% with 90% of the sites producing 6% to 20% cover. Tall forb (.18 cm) cover averaged 1.9% and 90% of the sites varied between 0.2% and 5.6% cover. Five associations delineated by dominant perennial bunchgrass species were identified: ARTRW8 (Wyoming big sagebrush)/PSSP6 (Pseudoroegneria spicata [Pursh] A. Löve, bluebunch wheatgrass), ARTRW8/ACTH7 (Achnatherum thurberianum [Piper] Barkworth, Thurber’s needlegrass), ARTRW8/FEID (Festuca idahoensis Elmer, Idahofescue), ARTRW8/HECO26 (Hesperostipa comata [Trin. Rupr.] Barkworth, needle-and-thread), and ARTRW8/PSSP6-ACTH7 (a codominance of bluebunch wheatgrass and Thurber’s needlegrass). Our results suggest when the vegetation cover values proposed for sage-grouse are applied as requirements at or above the stand level, they exceed the ecological potentialof many of the sites sampled.