• Grazing protection influences soil mesofauna in ungrazed and grazed riparian and upland pastures

      Miller, J. J.; Battigelli, J. P.; Willms, W. D. (Society for Range Management, 2014-07)
      The influence of grazing protection caused by streambank fencing on soil mesofauna density is unknown. Our objective was to determine if grazing protection (ungrazed vs. grazed), location (upland vs. riparian pasture), and seasonal (spring vs. fall) treatment effects associated with streambank fencing had a significant influence on soil mesofauna distribution and density. We collected five intact soil cores (0-5 cm depth) in June and October of 2012 from within four treatments consisting of ungrazed and grazed riparian and upland pastures associated with streambank fencing along an 800-m reach of the Lower Little Bow River in southern Alberta, Canada. Soil mesofauna were extracted and densities of Acari (mites) taxa, Collembola (springtails) taxa, and other mesofauna were determined. Grazing protection resulted in a significant (P ≤ 0.05) negative response of Astigmata mite densities for the upland pasture, and a positive response for Oribatida mites and total Collembola, and Hypogastruridae and Onychiuridae springtails for both pastures. Location and season had a significant influence on Acari and Collembola taxa, but the effects were dependent on interaction effects. We conclude that grazing protection influenced certain soil mesofauna in pastures associated with streambank fencing, and this may influence decomposition of soil organic matter, nutrient cycling, and soil structure in associated pastures. © 2014 The Society for Range Management.
    • Land management history of Canadian grasslands and the impact on soil carbon storage

      Wang, X.; Vandenbygaart, A. J.; McConkey, B. C. (Society for Range Management, 2014-07)
      Grasslands represent a large potential reservoir in storing carbon (C) in plant biomass and soil organic matter via C sequestration, but the potential greatly depends on how grasslands are managed, especially for livestock and wild animal grazing. Positive and negative grazing effects on soil organic carbon have been reported by various studies globally, but it is not known if Canadian grasslands function as a source or a sink for atmospheric C under current management practices. This article examines the effect of grassland management on carbon storage by compiling historical range management facts and measurements from multiple experiments. Results indicate that grazing on grasslands has contributed to a net C sink in the top 15-cm depth under current utilization regimes with a removal rate of CO2 at 0.19 ± 0.02 Mg · C · ha-1 · yr-1 from the atmosphere during recent decades, and net C sequestration was estimated at 5.64 ± 0.97 Mg · C · ha-1 on average. Naturalization of 2.3 M ha of previously cultivated grasslands in the 1930s has also led to C sequestration in the Canadian prairies but has likely abated as the pool has saturated. Efforts made by researchers, policymakers, and the public has successfully led to the restoration of the Canadian prairies to a healthier state and to achieve considerable C sequestration in soils since their severe deterioration in the 1930s. In-depth analysis of management, legislation, and agricultural programs is urgently needed to place the focus on maintaining range health and achieving more C storage in soils, particularly when facing the reduced potential for further C sequestration. © 2014 The Society for Range Management.
    • Monitoring British upland ecosystems with the use of landscape structure as an indicator for state-and-transition models

      Young, D.; Perotto-Baldivieso, H. L.; Brewer, T.; Homer, R.; Santos, S. A. (Society for Range Management, 2014-07)
      Remote sensing and landscape ecology concepts can provide a useful framework for state-and-transition models (STM) in order to quantify thresholds at different scales, and provide useful information for scientists, land managers, and conservationists in relation to resilience management. The overall aim of this research was to develop a spatially explicit STM to quantify thresholds based on the scale of disturbance processes impacting a grazing system. Specific objectives were to develop a conceptual STM framework for upland grazing ecosystems, to quantify spatial dynamics of stable and degraded pastures, and to assess threshold occurrence. Color aerial photography from Armboth Fell in the English Lake District National Park (United Kingdom) was classified into bare rock, dwarf shrub heath (DSH), and grassland/degraded wet heath (GDWH) in four pastures with different degrees of grazing pressure. Vegetation communities from these pastures were combined with soils, climate, and landform data to create a conceptual STM framework. Each pasture was sampled with 2-ha plots to quantify DSH and GDWH spatial structure. The proposed STM consisted of two reference and three alternative states. Low-grazing-pressure areas showed significantly higher percentage of DSH cover with larger contiguous patches and lower patch density than high-grazing-pressure areas. Breakpoints, considered to be thresholds, in mean patch area were identified in our data when DSH percentage cover was < 63% and GDWH, > 77%. The present study has shown the value of a robust, reliable, and repeatable approach to identify landscape dynamics and integrate it with field data to inform a conceptual STM framework for upland grazing ecosystems. It also demonstrates the importance of selecting scales relevant to the predominant disturbance process to test for threshold occurrence, and how this approach can be integrated with current assessment methods for resilience management. © 2014 The Society for Range Management.
    • Natural regeneration processes in big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)

      Schlaepfer, D. R.; Lauenroth, W. K.; Bradford, J. B. (Society for Range Management, 2014-07)
      Big sagebrush, Artemisia tridentata Nuttall (Asteraceae), is the dominant plant species of large portions of semiarid western North America. However, much of historical big sagebrush vegetation has been removed or modified. Thus, regeneration is recognized as an important component for land management. Limited knowledge about key regeneration processes, however, represents an obstacle to identifying successful management practices and to gaining greater insight into the consequences of increasing disturbance frequency and global change. Therefore, our objective is to synthesize knowledge about natural big sagebrush regeneration. We identified and characterized the controls of big sagebrush seed production, germination, and establishment. The largest knowledge gaps and associated research needs include quiescence and dormancy of embryos and seedlings; variation in seed production and germination percentages; wet-thermal time model of germination; responses to frost events (including freezing/thawing of soils), CO2 concentration, and nutrients in combination with water availability; suitability of microsite vs. site conditions; competitive ability as well as seedling growth responses; and differences among subspecies and ecoregions. Potential impacts of climate change on big sagebrush regeneration could include that temperature increases may not have a large direct influence on regeneration due to the broad temperature optimum for regeneration, whereas indirect effects could include selection for populations with less stringent seed dormancy. Drier conditions will have direct negative effects on germination and seedling survival and could also lead to lighter seeds, which lowers germination success further. The short seed dispersal distance of big sagebrush may limit its tracking of suitable climate; whereas, the low competitive ability of big sagebrush seedlings may limit successful competition with species that track climate. An improved understanding of the ecology of big sagebrush regeneration should benefit resource management activities and increase the ability of land managers to anticipate global change impacts. © 2014 The Society for Range Management.
    • Of grouse and golden eggs: Can ecosystems be managed within a species-based regulatory framework?

      Boyd, C. S.; Johnson, D. D.; Kerby, J. D.; Svejcar, T. J.; Davies, K. W. (Society for Range Management, 2014-07)
      Declining greater sage-grouse populations are causing concern for the future of this species across the western United States. Major ecosystem issues, including exotic annual grass invasion and conifer encroachment, threaten vast acreages of sagebrush rangeland and are primary threats to sage-grouse. We discuss types of problems facing sage-grouse habitat and argue that complex ecosystem problems may be difficult to address under the Endangered Species Act as currently applied. Some problems, such as anthropogenic development, can be effectively regulated to produce a desired outcome. Other problems that are complex and involve disruption of ecosystem processes cannot be effectively regulated and require ongoing commitment to adaptive management. We believe that historical inertia of the regulatory paradigm is sufficient to skew management toward regulatory mechanisms, even though complex ecosystem problems impact large portions of the sage-grouse range. To overcome this situation, we suggest that the regulatory approach embodied in the Endangered Species Act be expanded to include promoting management trajectories needed to address complex ecosystem problems. This process should begin with state-and-transition models as the basis for a conceptual framework that outlines potential plant communities, their value as sage-grouse habitat, and their ecological status. Desired management trajectories are defined by maintenance of an ecologically resilient state that is of value as sage-grouse habitat, or movement from a less desired to a more desired state. Addressing complex ecosystem problems will involve shifting conservation roles. Under the regulatory approach, programmatic scales define regulatory policies, and local scales focus on implementing those policies. With complex ecosystem problems, programmatic scales empower local conservationists to make decisions necessary to adaptively manage problems. Putting ecosystem management on par with traditional regulatory actions honors obligations to provide regulatory protections while maintaining the capacity of the ecosystem to produce habitat and greatly expands the diversity of stakeholders willing to participate in sage-grouse conservation. © 2014 The Society for Range Management.
    • Plant community response following removal of Juniperus virginiana from tallgrass prairie: Testing for restoration limitations

      Limb, R. F.; Engle, D. M.; Alford, A. L.; Hellgren, E. C. (Society for Range Management, 2014-07)
      Woody plant encroachment in natural grasslands is a widely documented global phenomenon that alters ecosystem dynamics by altering historic vegetation composition and suppressing herbaceous productivity. Abundant woody plants often suppress native plants sufficiently to establish successional thresholds difficult to reverse without species augmentation. Juniper (Juniperus virginiana L.) is expanding in North American tallgrass prairie, but it is currently unknown if encroachment creates successional restrictions that limit restoration potential. We selected 16 50×50-m sites with juniper canopy cover ranging from zero to approximately 75% in tallgrass prairie near Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA. Juniper trees were removed from 7 of the sites along the gradient of juniper canopy cover. Canopy cover of plant species and herbaceous plant productivity were estimated at each site 1 year before and 1, 2, and 5 years after tree removal. Before trees were removed, plant species richness and productivity declined as juniper canopy cover increased, and plant community composition dissimilarity of reference sites increased as juniper canopy cover increased. These relationships remained consistent on all non-removal sites throughout the study. The first year after juniper removal, species richness increased on all removal sites compared to intact sites and productivity on removal sites increased two years after removal. Plant community dissimilarity between reference sites and juniper removal sites remained relatively high (30-60%) the first two years after tree removal on all removal sites, but dissimilarity was about 22% 5 years after juniper removal. Within 5 years, removal sites were comparable to reference plant communities. Grassland restoration frequently requires species manipulation and additional seeding, particularly when overcoming successional limitations. Juniper encroachment into tallgrass prairie alters plant community species composition and productivity. However, in our study, juniper associated succession limitations were not apparent, and complete autogenic restoration was achieved within 5 years without seeding or species manipulation. © 2014 The Society for Range Management.
    • Seasonal resource selection and distributional response by elk to development of a natural gas field

      Buchanan, C. B.; Beck, J. L.; Bills, T. E.; Miller, S. N. (Society for Range Management, 2014-07)
      Global energy demand is predicted to increase dramatically, suggesting the need to understand the role of disturbance from energy development better and to develop more efficient conservation strategies for affected wildlife populations. We evaluated elk (Cervus elaphus) response to disturbance associated with natural gas development in summer and winter, including shifts in resource selection and concomitant distribution. We collected elk locations prior to (1992-1995) and during (2008-2010) coal bed natural gas (CBNG) development in the ~ 498-km2 Fortification Creek Area (FCA) of northeastern Wyoming, USA, where approximately 700 CBNG wells and 542 km of collector, local, and resource roads were developed from 2000 through 2010. We developed resource selection functions for summer and winter using coordinate data from VHF-collared female elk prior to CBNG development and similar location data from GPS-collared female elk during CBNG development to assess spatial selection shifts. By pooling across all locations we created population level models for each time period (e.g., pre- and during development) and incorporated individual variation through bootstrapping standard errors for parameter estimates. Comparison of elk resource selection prior to and during natural gas development demonstrated behavioral and distributional shifts whereby during development, elk demonstrated a higher propensity to use distance and escape cover to minimize exposure to roads. Specifically, during-development elk selected areas with greater Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum Sarg.) cover, increased terrain ruggedness, and farther from CBNG roads than prior to development. Elk distributional changes resulting from avoidance behavior led to a loss of high-use areas by 43.1% and 50.2% in summer and winter, respectively. We suggest reducing traffic, protecting woody escape cover, and maintaining refugia within the energy-development footprint to promote persistence of elk within energy fields. © 2014 The Society for Range Management.