Shrub encroachment is a global phenomenon. Both the causes and consequences of shrub encroachment vary regionally and globally. In the southwestern US a common native C3 shrub species, creosotebush, has invaded millions of hectares of arid and semi-arid C4-dominated grassland. At the Sevilleta LTER site, it appears that the grassland-shrubland ecotone is relatively stable, but infill by creosotebush continues to occur. The consequences of shrub encroachment have been and continue to be carefully documented, but the ecological drivers of shrub encroachment in the southwestern US are not well known.
One key factor that may promote shrub encroachment is grazing by domestic livestock. However, multiple environmental drivers have changed over the 150 years during which shrub expansion has occurred through the southwestern US. Temperatures are warmer, atmospheric CO2 has increased, drought and rainy cycles have occurred, and grazing pressure has decreased. From our prior research we know that prolonged drought greatly reduces the abundance of native grasses while having limited impact on the abundance of creosotebush in the grass-shrub ecotone. So once established, creosotebush populations are persistent and resistant to climate cycles. We also know that creosotebush seedlings tend to appear primarily when rainfall during the summer monsoon is well above average. However, high rainfall years also stimulate the growth of the dominant grasses creating a competitive environment that may not favor seedling establishment and survival. The purpose of the Mega-Monsoon Experiment (MegaME) is twofold. First, this experiment will determine if high rainfall years coupled with (simulated) grazing promote the establishment and growth of creosotebush seedlings in the grassland-shrubland ecotone at Sevilleta, thus promoting infill and expansion of creosotebush into native grassland. Second, MegaME will determine if a sequence of wet summer monsoons will promote the establishment and growth of native C4 grasses in areas where creosotebush is now dominant, thus demonstrating that high rainfall and dispersal limitation prevent grassland expansion into creosotebush shrubland.
Vegetation and soil measurements are taken in the spring and fall each year. Spring measurements are taken in May when spring annuals have reached peak biomass for the growing season. Fall measurements are taken in either September or October when summer annuals and all perennial species have reached peak biomass for the growing season, but prior to killing frosts. Vegetation cover is measured to assess growth and survival of grasses and shrubs. Bare soil and litter covers are also measured to monitor substrate changes that occur within the plots.
One meter2 vegetation quadrats are used to measure the cover of all plants present in each m2. There are 10 quads in each plot, checkered along on side of the plot. There is a tag on one rebar of each quad with the representative quad number.
General vegetation measurements
The cover is recorded for each species of live plant material inside the quadrat. Vegetation measurements are taken in two layers: a ground level layer that includes all grasses, forbs, sub-shrubs, and a litter and bare soil, and a “shrub” layer that includes the canopy of Larrea tridentata. The purpose of this approach is to include Larrea canopies, while allowing the cover values of the ground level layer to sum to approximately 100%. The dead plant covers are not included in the measurement, thus the total amount may not equal 100%. It is assumed that the remaining cover missing from the 100% is a combination of dead plant material.
The quadrat boundaries are delineated by the 1 m2 PVC-frame placed above the quadrat. Each PVC-frame is divided into 100 squares with nylon string. The dimensions of each square are 10cm x 10cm and represent 1 % of the total quadrat area or cover. The cover and height of all individual plants of a species that fall within the 1m2 quadrat are measured. Cover is quantified by counting the number of 10cm x 10cm squares intercepted by all individual plants of a particular species, and/or partial cover for individual plants < 1%.
Vegetation cover measurements
Cover measurements are made by summing the live cover values for all individual plants of a given species that fall within an infinite vertical column that is defined by the inside edge of the PVC-frame. This includes vegetation that is rooted outside of the frame but has foliage that extends into the vertical column defined by the PVC-frame. Again, cover is quantified by counting the number of 10cm x 10cm squares intercepted by each species. Do not duplicate overlapping canopies, just record the total canopy cover on a horizontal plane when looking down on the quadrat through the grid.
Larger cover values will vary but the smallest cover value recorded should never be below 0.1%. When dealing with individual plants that are < 1.00%, round the measurements to an increment of 0.1. Cover values between 1.00% and 10.00% should be rounded to increments of 1.0, and values > 10.00% are rounded to increments of 5.
Larrea tridentata canopy is estimated using the portion of the canopy that falls within the quadrat. The canopy edge is defined by a straight gravity line from the canopy to the ground (i.e. imagine a piece of string with a weight on the end being moved around the canopy edge). ForLarrea seedlings the code LSEED is used and is a separate measurement from the Larrea canopy measurements. The cover measurement for LSEED is simply a count of individuals, not actual cover, as it is assumed that they would have a cover of < 1.00%.
To determine the cover of a grass clump, envision a perimeter around the central mass or densest portion of the plant excluding individual long leaves, wispy ends or more open upper regions of the plant. Live tissue is frequently mixed with dead tissue in grass clumps.
The cover of forbs is the perimeter around the densest portion of the plant. Measure all foliage that was produced during the current season.
Cacti and Yucca
The cover of cacti and yucca is made by estimating a perimeter around the densest portion of the plant and recorded as a single cover. For cacti that consist of a cluster of pads or jointed stems (i.e., Opuntia phaecantha, Opuntia imbricata), estimate an average perimeter around the series of plant parts and record a single coverage measurement.
Vine cover (and some forbs) is often convoluted. Rather than attempt to estimate cover directly, take a frequency count of 10X10X10cm cubes that the vine is present in.
As with other vegetation measurements, the smallest cover value for seedlings should never be <0.1%. If the value of a seedling’s cover is less, round up to 0.1%.
Non-Vegetation cover measurements
Materials other than vegetation that are measured in the drought plots include soil and litter.
Measure the cover of the area occupied by abiotic substrates. Cover is quantified by summing the number of 10cm x 10cm squares intercepted by abiotic substrates. Cover values < 10.00% should be rounded to increments of and cover values > 10.00% should be recorded in increments of 5. If there is no soil in the quadrat, record “SOIL” in the species column for that quadrat and record a “0” for cover.
Measure the cover of the area occupied by litter, which is unattached dead plant material. Cover is quantified by summing the number of 10cm x 10cm squares intercepted by abiotic substrates. Cover values < 10.00% should be rounded to increments of 1 and cover values > 10.00% should be recorded in increments of 5. If there is no litter in the quadrat, record “LITT” in the species column for that quadrat and record a “0” for cover.
Clipping grass at Ecotone Site
After measurements are taken at the Ecotone Site, grass is clipped down to the soil and removed from half of the quads in each plot. The goal is to assess the impact of competition on successful creosote seedling germination. The following quads, # 2, 4, 6, 7, and 10, get clipped in every plot at the ecotone site.
The watering schedule varies based on seasonal rainfall. Our goal is to increase average monsoon precipitation (150mm) by 50%, so we shoot for a total of 225mm on the plots during the summer monsoon.
Additional Information on the personnel associated with the Data Collection:
Stephanie Baker 2014-present
Megan McClung 2014-present
Chandra Tucker 2014-present
The purpose of this project is to test the hypothesis that the smallest 50% of precipitation events during the monsoon season affect microbial functioning and grassland productivity in mixed grasslands of B.eriopoda and B. gracilis at the SNWR. At the SNWR, the summer monsoon season accounts for 60% of total annual precipitation and drives the majority of vegetation productivity during the year; the largest 25% of precipitation events account for the majority of this precipitation. I predict that important ecological variables such as nutrient and soil moisture availability are disproportionately influenced by smaller events. The proposed project will help tease apart the importance of precipitation event classes on nutrient availability and grassland aboveground net primary production (ANPP). This research will also provide a basis for understanding how increased aridity in the U.S. southwest due to increasing global surface temperature and altered precipitation could affect grassland communities at the SNWR.
We will implement 10 open plots (control) and 10 precipitation exclosure plots(treatment; 20 total plots) at a mixed blue and black grama grassland site at the SNWR. In this experiment, treatment plots will only receive the largest 50% of precipitation events. This will maintain statistically similar total precipitation between control and treatment plots because the smallest 50% of events have an insignificant effect on total seasonal precipitation. How these small events are linked to microbial activity and vegetation productivity is still very much unknown. I predict that soil microbial activity and nutrient availability will differ between control and treatment plots and will result in differing vegetation ANPP between them. These effects may become more distinct as time progresses, which is the reason for conducting this research for a series of monsoon seasons.
Existing precipitation exclosures (2.45 m x 2.45 m) will be employed at the mixed grassland site. We will implement 20 total plots (10 control, 10 treatment; approx. 500 m2 total area). Temporary site infrastructure will include 10 precipitation exclosures, a water tank (1100 gal.) and soil moisture probes. This infrastructure currently exists at the mixed grassland site and will be adopted from Michell Thomey's project entitled, "Soil moisture extremes and soil water dynamics across a semiarid grassland ecotone."
Precipitation is the only independent variable in this experiment. Using precipitation exclosures, I will remove all ambient precipitation from treatment plots from DOY 182-273. Ambient daily precipitation thatexceeds the estimated 50% threshold will be delivered to the plots within 24 hours of an event. Delivered precipitation will be adjusted for atmospheric demand differences.
Dependent variables in this experiment are vegetation ANPP, soil nitrogen content, soil enzymatic activityand soil moisture content. Vegetation biomass will be collected from the sites on DOY 181 and 274. Soil enzymatic activity will be determined approximately 4 times per monsoon season using plot soil samples. Soil nitrogen content will be measured under vegetation using nitrogen probes. Volumetric soil moisture content [m3 m-3] will be measured continuously using soil moisture probes (30 cm depth).
The distribution, structure and function of mesic savanna grasslands are strongly driven by fire regimes, grazing by large herbivores, and their interactions. This research addresses a general question about our understanding of savanna grasslands globally: Is our knowledge of fire and grazing sufficiently general to enable us to make accurate predictions of how these ecosystems will respond to changes in these drivers over time? Some evidence suggests that fire and grazing influence savanna grassland structure and function differently in South Africa (SA) compared to North America (NA). These differences have been attributed to the contingent factors of greater biome age, longer evolutionary history with fire and grazing, reduced soil fertility, and greater diversity of plants and large herbivores in SA. An alternative hypothesis is that differences in methods and approaches used to study these systems have led to differing perspectives on the role of these drivers. If the impacts of shared ecosystem drivers truly differ between NA and SA, this calls into question the generality of our understanding of these ecosystems and our ability to forecast how changes in key drivers will affect savanna grasslands globally. Since 2006, an explicitly comparative research program has been conducted to determine the degree of convergence in ecosystem (productivity, N and C cycling) and plant community (composition, diversity, dynamics) responses to fire and grazing in SA and NA.
Thus far, initial support has been found for convergence at the ecosystem level and divergence at the community level in response to alterations in both fire regimes and grazing. However, there have also been two unexpected findings (1) the ways in which fire and grazing interact differed between NA and SA, and (2) the rate of change in communities when grazers were removed was much greater in NA than in SA. These unexpected findings raise a number of important new questions: (Q1) Will exclusion of grazing eventually affect community structure and composition across all fire regimes in SA? (Q2) Will these effects differ from those observed in NA? (Q3) What are the determinants of the different rates of community change? (Q4) How will these determinants influence future trajectories of change? (Q5) Will the different rates and trajectories of community change be mirrored by responses in ecosystem function over time? This project is based on a large herbivore exclusion study established within the context of long-term (25-50+ yr) experimental manipulations of fire frequency at the Konza Prairie Biological Station (KPBS) in NA and the Kruger National Park (KNP) in SA. The suite of core studies and measurements include plant community composition, ANPP, and herbivore abundance and distribution at both study sites to answer these research questions.
We used comparable experimental designs and sampling procedures at both URF and KPBS. At URF we used three replicate plots (not hayed or mowed) that have been burned every 1 and 3 years in the spring, and those left unburned (N=9 plots). At KPBS, we established replicate plots in experimental watersheds burned every 1 and 4 years in the spring, and those left unburned (N=9 plots). Thus, the only difference in design between NA and SA was the intermediate burn frequency. In 2005 at both sites we established four 2x2m areas in each replicate of the 1-yr, 3-4 yr burned, and unburned plots (N=36 subplots). We then randomly selected two of the subplots for the fertilization treatment and the other two subplots served as controls (Fig. 1). Starting in 2006 at KPBS and 2007 at URF, we began adding 10 gN/m2/yr as NH4+NO3- to assess the interactive effects of fire frequency and nitrogen limitation on plant community composition, structure and dynamics.
Fig. 1. Experimental design and sampling for the proposed studies: A) the role of long-term fire regimes (without megaherbivores), B) the importance of grazing and grazing/fire interactions, and C) the role of megaherbivore diversity. Moveable exclosures (3/plot) will be used to estimate ANPP in the grazed plots. N addition subplots (2 x 2 m) will be divided into 4 1 x 1 plots, with two designated for plant species composition sampling and the other two for destructive sampling. Soil samples will be collected from areas not designated for ANPP or plant composition sampling. Note that the same annually and infrequently burned plots at Kruger and Konza will be used in (B) and (C). In addition, similar plots will be established minus the N addition subplots in the 1-yr and 4-yr burned blocks of the Buffalo enclosure for (C).
Each of the 2x2m subplots was divided into four 1x1m quadrats. Annually since 2005 (prior to nitrogen addition) canopy cover of each species rooted in each quadrat was visually estimated twice during the growing season to sample early and late season species. As a surrogate for aboveground production, we measured light availability at the end of the growing season above the canopy at the ground surface in each quadrat (N=4 per subplot) using a Decagon ceptometer.
Net primary production measurements: Prior to the 2005 growing season we established plots (13.7 m by 18.3 m) in ungrazed areas burned annually, at 3–4-year intervals, and unburned (n = 3 per fire treatment) at both KBPS and URF. Areas with trees or large shrubs were avoided as our main goal was to evaluate responses in the herbaceous plant community. ANPP was estimated from end-of-season harvests starting in 2005 (September for KBPS, April for URF). In 10, 0.1-m2 (20 cm by 50 cm) quadrats randomly located in each plot (n = 30/treatment/site), we harvested the vegetation at ground level and separated it into grass, forb, and previous year’s dead biomass. Samples were dried at 60C to a constant weight. For annually burned plots, total biomass harvested represents ANPP. For the intermediate and unburned sites, we calculated ANPP by summing all but the previous year’s dead component.
To assess the impacts of fire on ANPP in grazed areas, we established herbivore exclusion treatments in KBPS in North America and KNP in South Africa. Herbivore exclosures in grazed areas in KPBS and KNP were erected prior to the 2006 growing season. The exclosures were 7 m in diameter, 2 m tall, and constructed of diamond mesh (5-cm diameter). Seven exclosures were established in each of three blocks of the three fire treatments— annually burned, intermediate burn (3- years for KNP or 4-years for KPBS), and unburned (n = 21 exclosures/treatment/site). As our focus was on ANPP responses of the herbaceous layer, exclosures were not located beneath trees or where dense shrub patches were present. Additionally, in the Satara region of KNP is a 900-ha permanent enclosure containing 80–90 adult African buffalo (S. caffer). This enclosure was erected in 2000 and was divided into six areas (100–200 ha each), with these burned on a rotational basis including plots burned annually and plots that were unburned. We used the unburned and annually burned areas in the buffalo enclosure to provide a direct comparison for determining the effects of a single-species large grazer in KNP and KPBS, and to assess the effects of large herbivore diversity at adjacent sites in KNP. Similar exclosures were built in the African buffalo enclosure at KNP. We placed 7 exclosures in the three blocks of each fire treatment (annually burned and unburned) resulting in 21 exclosures/treatment. We sampled ANPP by harvesting plant biomass from three 0.1 m2 quadrats per herbivore exclosure at the end of the growing season starting in 2006.
Data are collected twice each year at each site. Sample periods are equivalent to spring and late summer at each study site (December/January and March/April in South Africa, May and September in North America.
Where the Data were Collected:
Ukulinga Research Farm, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa; Satara Region of Kruger National Park, South Africa; Konza Prairie Biological Station, North America
Additional Geographic Metadata:
Ukulinga Research Farm (URF), South Africa. The URF of the University of KwaZulu-Natal is located in Pietermaritzburg, in southeastern South Africa (30o 24’ S, 29o 24’ E). The site is dominated by native perennial C4 grasses, such as Themeda triandra and Heteropogon contortus, that account for much of the herbaceous aboveground net primary production (ANPP). Mean annual precipitation is 790 mm, coming mostly as convective storms during summer (Oct-Apr). Summers are warm with a mean monthly maximum of 26.4oC in February, and winters are mild with occasional frost. Soils are fine-textured and derived from shales. There has been no grazing at this site for >60 years. Long-term experimental plots were established at URF in 1950 with the objective of determining the optimal fire and/or summer cutting regime to maximize hay production. The experiment is a randomized block (three replicates) split-plot design with four whole-plot haying treatments and 11 subplot fire or mowing treatments. Subplot sizes are 13.7 x 18.3 m.
Kruger National Park (KNP), South Africa. The KNP is a 2 million ha protected area of savanna grassland that includes many of the large herbivores common to southern Africa (22º 25' to 25º 2 32' S, 30º 50' to 32º 2' E). The extant abundance and grazing intensity of herbivores in KNP is considered moderate for regional savanna grasslands. In the south-central region of KNP where our research takes place, average rainfall is 537 mm with most falling during the growing season (Oct-Apr). The dormant season is mild, dry and frost free, and summers are warm with mean monthly maximum air temperature of 28.9oC in January. Because of the importance of fire in savanna grassland ecosystems, the Experimental Burn Plot (EBP) experiment was initiated in 1954 to examine the effects of fire frequency (control-no fire, 1-, 2-, 3-, 4- and 6-yr return interval) and season [early spring (Aug), spring (Oct), mid-summer (Dec), late summer (Feb), and fall (Apr)] on vegetation communities in the park. Four blocks of 12 plots (two were later split for the 4- and 6-yr trts), each ~7 ha (370 x 180 m) in size, were established in four primary vegetation types covering the two major soil types (granites and basalts) and spanning the precipitation gradient in the park. Each plot has 50+ years of known fire history, and native herbivores have had unrestricted access, thus fire and grazing effects are combined. This research focuses on the EBPs located near Satara where precipitation, soil type, and the mix of herbaceous and woody plants are similar to KPBS. Vegetation on the blocks is co-dominated by C4 grasses, such as Bothriochloa radicans, Panicum coloratum and Digiteria eriantha, and woody plants, such as Acacia nigrescens and Sclerocarya birrea. Soils are fine-textured and derived from basalts. Adjacent to one of the Satara blocks is the Cape buffalo enclosure, erected in 2000 for veterinary purposes. The 200 ha permanent enclosure contains 65-80 animals and is divided into 4 blocks burned on a rotational basis. The grazing intensity inside is comparable to the moderate levels imposed in the park and at KPBS. Two blocks are burned annually while others are burned infrequently (approximately once every 4-yr).
Konza Prairie Biological Station (KPBS), North America. The KPBS is a 3,487 ha savanna grassland in northeastern Kansas, USA (39o 05’ N, 96o 35’ W) dominated by native perennial C4 grasses such as Andropogon gerardii and Sorghastrum nutans that account for the majority of ANPP. Scattered shrub and tree species include Cornus drummondii, Gleditsia triacanthos, and Prunus spp. Numerous sub-dominant grasses and forbs contribute to the floristic diversity of the site. The climate is continental, with mean July air temperature of 27°C. Annual precipitation is ca. 820 mm/year, with 75% falling as rain during the Apr-Oct growing season. Soils are fine textured, silty clay loams derived from limestone and shales. KPBS includes fully replicated watershed-level fire and fire/grazing treatments, in place since 1977 and 1987, respectively. Replicate watersheds (mean size ~60ha) are burned at 1-, 2-, 4-, 10- and 20-yr intervals, mainly in April, to encompass a range of likely natural fire frequencies and management practices. A subset of watersheds has not been grazed for more than 30 years. To address the role of native grazers and fire/grazing interactions, bison (~260 individuals) were reintroduced to KPBS in a 1000-ha fenced area that includes replicate watersheds burned in the spring at 1-, 2-, 4- and 20-year intervals. The overall grazing intensity is considered moderate.
Study Area 1:
Study Area Name: Ukulinga Research Farm
Study Area Location: Near Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Elevation: 840 m above sea level
Landform: Colluvium fan
Geology: Marine shales and dolerite colluvium
Soils: Dystric leptosols, Chromic luvisols, Haplic plinthisols
Vegetation: Native grassland
Climate: Mean annual precipitation is 844 mm, Mean annual temperature 17.6C
Site history: Ungrazed since 1950
Single Point: 29o 40’ S / 30o 20’ E
Study Area 2: Kruger National Park, South Africa
Study Area Name: Satara Experimental Burn Plots and Cape Buffalo Exclosure
Study Area Location: Near Satara rest camp
Elevation: 240-320 meters above sea level
Landform: Level Upland
Soils: Rhodic nitisols, Haplic luvisols, Leptic phaeozems
Climate: Mean annual precipitation 544 mm; mean annual temperature 21.2–23.3C
Site history: Grazed by native herbivores
Single Point: 23–25o S /30-31o E
Study Area 3: Konza Prairie Biological Station
Study Area Name: Konza Prairie
Study Area Location: Watersheds N20B, N4D, N1B, N4B; 1D, 4F, 20B
Elevation: 320-444 meters above sea level
Landform: Alluvial terrace
Geology: Cherty limestone and shale
Soils: Udic argiustolls
Climate: Mean annual precipitation 835 mm; mean annual temperature 12.7C
Site history: Ungrazed watersheds (since 1971), watersheds grazed by native herbivores (since 1987)
Single Point: 39o 05.48’ N / 96o 34.12’ W
Konza-Ukulinga fire by nitrogen project: We used comparable experimental designs and sampling procedures at both URF and KPBS (Figure 1). At URF we used three replicate plots (not hayed or mowed) that have been burned every 1 and 3 years in the spring, and those left unburned (N=9 plots). At KPBS, we established replicate plots in experimental watersheds burned every 1 and 4 years in the spring, and those left unburned (N=9 plots). Thus, the only difference in design between NA and SA was the intermediate burn frequency. In 2005 at both sites we established four 2x2m areas in each replicate of the 1-yr, 3-4 yr burned, and unburned plots (N=36 subplots). We then randomly selected two of the subplots for the fertilization treatment and the other two subplots served as controls (Fig. 1). Starting in 2006 at KPBS and 2007 at URF, we began adding 10 gN/m2/yr as NH4+NO3- to assess the interactive effects of fire frequency and nitrogen limitation on plant community composition, structure and dynamics.
Konza-Kruger fire by grazing project: For this study, we are utilizing the long-term experiments at KPBS and KNP in which native megaherbivore grazers are present and fire frequency is directly manipulated. To assess the effects of grazing and fire-grazing interactions, we constructed seven sets of permanent exclosures and adjacent control plots in three blocks at both sites. The exclosures and matching paired open plots were established in 2005 in the Satara EBPs that are burned every 1 and 3 years in the spring or left unburned and at KPBS in watersheds that are burned every 1 and 4 years or left unburned. (N=63 exclosures/site; Fig. 1). Within each exclosure and paired open plot, we sample plant community composition and light availability in permanent 2x2 m subplots. We collect ANPP at the end of each growing season from each exclosure, and throughout the growing season in grazed areas adjacent to the unexclosed plots using 1x1 m moveable exclosures (Fig. 1).
Plant species can differentially shape soil biota and abiotic conditions. In some grasslands, edaphic factors are more influential on microbial communities than biotic interactions. Arid grasses are intimately linked with a hyphal network that delivers substantial water and nutrients to plant roots. Examining microbial activities associated with dominant grasses determines how individual plant species shape ecosystem processes and how these processes may be affected as plant communities change. If microbial activity is consistent between different plant species, then microbial activity is largely controlled by edaphic factors, and microbial mediated ecosystem processes may not be affected if plant communities change. If microbial activity varies between plant species, it is controlled by differential plant properties and microbial mediated ecosystem processes would presumably change as plant communities change. The main research questions for this project were 1) does microbial activity vary between dominant semiarid grasses, and 2) is microbial activity driven mainly by edaphic or plant species-specific attributes?
There are five monocultures of each of seven grasses (35 plots) for total of 95 plot. There are 55 plots that have two species: Each of the five non-blue and black species will be planted with blue grama and black grama. Blue and black grama will also be planted together, for a total of 11 species interaction treatments, which will also be replicated five times. The plots will be 2 x 2.5 meters to allow the 0.5 meter strip on one side of the plot to be used in invasion future experiments.
The seven species planted:
Reseeded four species in July 2008. The species planted in each plot can be found in the plot treatment are: Sporobolus cryptandrus, sand_dropseed, Bouteloua gracilis, Blue gramaOryzopsis hymenoides, Indian_ricegrass, Hilaria jamesii, galleta, Aristida purpurea, purple_threeawn, Bouteloua eriopoda, Black gramma, Bouteloua curtipendula, Side oats grama. We reseeded four species in July of 2008.
Only monoculture plots of Bouteloua eriopoda, Bouteloua gracilis and Aristida Purpurea were utilized for this project. Soil samples were collected from the rhizosphere and interspaces between plants. Four soil cores (1cm wide, 3 cm deep) were taken across the plot and mixed together for each sample. Enzyme activity in the rhizosphere and interspace were analyzed separately. Samples were refrigerated and processed within 48 hours of collection to prevent enzyme degradation. Soils were subsampled for organic matter and water content. Field soil moisture was calculated by comparing weights of freshly collected soil and soil dried at 60 °C. A subsample was also burned at 500 °C for 4 hours to determine percent organic matter. The potential activity levels of beta-glucosidase, beta-N-acetylglucosaminidase, alanine aminopeptidase, alkaline phosphatase, and phenol oxidase were measured in the lab following the methods of Stursova et al. (2006).
Microbes substantially control many biogeochemical processes in semiarid systems, including carbon and nitrogen fixation and carbon mineralization. Bacteria and fungi are osmotrophs that release enzymes into the environment to generate assimilable carbon and nutrients from organic particles. These enzymes are also the first agents to respond to pulses of soil moisture. The capacity to stabilize extracellular enzymes on soil particles preserves the utility of these nutrient-generating agents during extended dry periods. Enzyme stability can relate to environmental conditions and increase with clay mineral and humic compound concentrations. To better understand microbial response to precipitation variability, our objective was to determine the stability of extracellular enzymes under various monsoon precipitation regimes. During summer 2010, soil enzyme activity was measured in a rainfall manipulation study within a mixed-grass semiarid grassland in New Mexico, USA. Plots received either one large rain event or three evenly spaced small rain events per month. Before and after the first rain of each month, soil samples from the rhizosphere and from interspaces between plants were collected and analyzed for activity of four hydrolases; beta-glucosidase, beta-N-acetylglucosaminidase, leucine aminopeptidase, and alkaline phosphatase.
For experimental design and precipitation manipulations see SEV218.
Before the first rain of each month, soil samples were collected from the rhizosphere and interspaces between plants. Four soil cores (1cm wide, 3 cm deep) were taken across the plot, with rhizoshpere samples from under B. eriopoda and B. gracilis, and mixed together for each sample. Enzyme activity in the rhizosphere and interspace were analyzed separately. Two hours after the rain event, soil samples were again collected in the same manner. Microbial response to precipitation is quick therefore 2 hours was ample time to assess microbial response. Samples were refrigerated and processed within 48 hours of collection to prevent enzyme degradation. Soils were subsampled for organic matter and water content. Field soil moisture was calculated by comparing weights of freshly collected soil and soil dried at 60 °C. A subsample was also burned at 500 °C for 4 hours to determine percent organic matter. The potential activity levels of beta-glucosidase, beta-N-acetylglucosaminidase, leucine aminopeptidase, alkaline phosphatase, and phenol oxidase were measured in the lab following the methods of Stursova et al. (2006).
The varied topography and large elevation gradients that characterize the arid and semi-arid Southwest create a wide range of climatic conditions - and associated biomes - within relatively short distances. This creates an ideal experimental system in which to study the effects of climate on ecosystems. Such studies are critical givien that the Southwestern U.S. has already experienced changes in climate that have altered precipitation patterns (Mote et al. 2005), and stands to experience dramatic climate change in the coming decades (Seager et al. 2007; Ting et al. 2007).
The varied topography and large elevation gradients that characterize the arid and semi-arid Southwest create a wide range of climatic conditions - and associated biomes - within relatively short distances. This creates an ideal experimental system in which to study the effects of climate on ecosystems. Such studies are critical givien that the Southwestern U.S. has already experienced changes in climate that have altered precipitation patterns (Mote et al. 2005), and stands to experience dramatic climate change in the coming decades (Seager et al. 2007; Ting et al. 2007). Climate models currently predict an imminent transition to a warmer, more arid climate in the Southwest (Seager et al. 2007; Ting et al. 2007). Thus, high elevation ecosystems, which currently experience relatively cool and mesic climates, will likely resemble their lower elevation counterparts, which experience a hotter and drier climate. In order to predict regional changes in carbon storage, hydrologic partitioning and water resources in response to these potential shifts, it is critical to understand how both temperature and soil moisture affect processes such as evaportranspiration (ET), total carbon uptake through gross primary production (GPP), ecosystem respiration (Reco), and net ecosystem exchange of carbon, water and energy across elevational gradients.
We are using a sequence of six widespread biomes along an elevational gradient in New Mexico -- ranging from hot, arid ecosystems at low elevations to cool, mesic ecosystems at high elevation to test specific hypotheses related to how climatic controls over ecosystem processes change across this gradient. We have an eddy covariance tower and associated meteorological instruments in each biome which we are using to directly measure the exchange of carbon, water and energy between the ecosystem and the atmosphere. This gradient offers us a unique opportunity to test the interactive effects of temperature and soil moisture on ecosystem processes, as temperature decreases and soil moisture increases markedly along the gradient and varies through time within sites.
This dataset examines how different stages of burn affects above-ground biomass production (ANPP) in a mixed desert-grassland. Net primary production is a fundamental ecological variable that quantifies rates of carbon consumption and fixation. Estimates of NPP are important in understanding energy flow at a community level as well as spatial and temporal responses to a range of ecological processes.
Above-ground net primary production is the change in plant biomass, represented by stems, flowers, fruit and foliage, over time and incorporates growth as well as loss to death and decomposition. To measure this change the vegetation variables in this dataset, including species composition and the cover and height of individuals, are sampled twice yearly (spring and fall) at permanent 1m x 1m plots. The data from these plots is used to build regressions correlating biomass and volume via weights of select harvested species obtained in SEV157, "Net Primary Productivity (NPP) Weight Data." This biomass data is included in SEV292, "Flux Tower Seasonal Biomass and Seasonal and Annual NPP Data."
Above-Ground Net Primary Productivity (ANPP) measurements:
Above-ground net primary production data is collected two times each year, spring, and fall. Spring measurements are taken in April or May when shrubs and spring annuals have reached peak biomass. Fall measurements are taken in either September or October when summer annuals have reached peak biomass but prior to killing frosts.
Vegetation data is collected on a palm top computer. A 1-m2 PVC-frame is placed over the fiberglass stakes that mark the diagonal corners of each quadrat. When measuring cover it is important to stay centered over the vegetation in the quadrat to prevent errors caused by angle of view (parallax). Each PVC-frame is divided into 100 squares with nylon string. The dimensions of each square are 10cm x 10cm and represent 1 percent of the total area.
The cover (area) and height of each individual live (green) vegetative unit that falls within the one square meter quadrat is measured. A vegetative unit consists of an individual size class (as defined by a unique cover and height) of a particular species within a quadrat. Cover is quantified by counting the number of 10cm x 10cm squares filled by each vegetative unit. It is possible to obtain a total percent cover greater than 100% for a given quadrat because vegetative units for different species often overlap.
Niners and plexidecs are additional tools that can help accurately determine the cover a vegetative unit. A niner is a small, hand-held PVC frame that can be used to measure canopies. Like the larger PVC frame it is divided into 10cm x 10cm squares, each square representing 1% of the total cover. However, there are only nine squares within the frame, hence the name “niner.” A plexidec can help determine the cover of vegetative units with covers less than 1%. Plexidecs are clear plastic squares that are held above vegetation. Each plexidec represents a cover of 0.5% and has smaller dimensions etched onto the surface that correspond to 0.01%, 0.05%, 0.1%, and 0.25% cover.
It is extremely important that cover and height measurements remain consistent over time to ensure that regressions based on this data remain valid. Field crew members should calibrate with each other to ensure that observer bias does not influence data collection
Grasses-To determine the cover of a grass clump, envision a perimeter around the central mass or densest portion of the plant, excluding individual long leaves, wispy ends, or more open upper regions of the plant. Live foliage is frequently mixed with dead foliage in grass clumps and this must be kept in mind during measurement as our goal is to measure only plant biomass for the current season. In general, recently dead foliage is yellow and dead foliage is gray. Within reason, try to include only yellow or green portions of the plant in cover measurement while excluding portions of the plant that are gray. This is particularly important for measurements made in the winter when there is little or no green foliage present. In winter, sometimes measurements will be based mainly on yellow foliage. Stoloniferous stems of grasses that are not rooted should be ignored. If a stem is rooted it should be recorded as a separate observation from the parent plant.
Forbs-The cover of forbs is measured as the perimeter of the densest portion of the plant. If the forb is an annual it is acceptable to include the inflorescence in this measurement. If the forb is a perennial, do not include the inflorescence as part of the cover measurement. Measure all foliage that was produced during the current season, including any recently dead (yellow) foliage. Avoid measuring gray foliage that died in a previous season.
Cacti-For cacti that consist of a series of pads or jointed stems (Opuntia phaecantha, Opuntia imbricata) measure the length and width of each pad to the nearest cm instead of cover and height. Cacti that occur as a dense ball/clump of stems (Opuntia leptocaulis) are measured using the same protocol as shrubs. Pincushion or hedgehog cacti (Escobaria vivipara, Schlerocactus intertextus, Echinocereus fendleri) that occur as single (or clustered) cylindrical stems are measured as a single cover.
Yuccas-Make separate observations for the leaves and caudex (thick basal stem). Break the observations into sections of leaves that are approximately the same height and record the cover as the perimeter around this group of leaf blades. The caudex is measured as a single cover. The thick leaves of yuccas make it difficult to make a cover measurement by centering yourself over the caudex of the plant. The cover of the caudex may be estimated by holding a niner next to it or using a tape measure to measure to approximate the area.
Height is recorded as a whole number in centimeters. All heights are vertical heights but they are not necessarily perpendicular to the ground if the ground is sloping.
Annual grasses and all forbs-Measure the height from the base of the plant to the top of the inflorescence (if present). Otherwise, measure to the top of the green foliage.
Perennial grasses-Measure the height from the base of the plant to the top of the live green foliage. Do not include the inflorescence in the height measurement. The presence of live green foliage may be difficult to see in the winter. Check carefully at the base of the plant for the presence of green foliage. If none is found it may be necessary to pull the leaf sheaths off of several plants outside the quadrat. From this you may be able to make some observations about where green foliage is likely to occur.
Perennial shrub and sub-shrubs-Measure the height from the base of the green foliage to the top of the green foliage, ignoring all bare stems. Do not measure to the ground unless the foliage reaches the ground. Plants rooted outside but hanging into a quadrat-Do not measure the height from the ground. Measure only the height of the portion of the plant that is within the quadrat.
Recording the Data:
Excel spreadsheets are used for data entry and file names should begin with the overall study (npp), followed by the date (mm.dd.yy) and the initials of the recorder (.abc). The final format should be as follows: npp_flux.mm.dd.yy.abc.xls. File names should be in lowercase.
Other researchers involved with collecting samples/data: Chandra Tucker (CAT; 04/2014-present), Megan McClung (MAM; 04/2013-present), Stephanie Baker (SRB; 09/2010-present), John Mulhouse (JMM; 08/2009-06/2013), Amaris Swann (ALS; 08/2008-present)Data updated 08/18/15: MOSQ changed to MUSQ3; ARPUP6 changed to ARPU9; SPWR changed to SPPO6; DANA changed to DANAN.
Seasonal environments experience cyclical or unpredictable pulses in plant growth that provide important resources for animal populations, and may affect the diversity and persistence of animal communities that utilize these resources. The timing of breeding cycles and other biological activities must be compatible with the availability of critical resources for animal species to exploit these resource pulses; failure to match animal needs with available energy can cause population declines. Adult Gunnison’s prairie dogs emerge from hibernation and breed in early spring, when plant growth is linked to cool-season precipitation and is primarily represented by the more nutritious and digestible plants that utilize the C3 photosynthetic pathway. In contrast, summer rainfall stimulates growth of less nutritious plants using the C4 photosynthetic pathway. Prairie dogs should therefore produce young during times of increased productivity from C3 plants, while pre-hibernation accumulation of body fat should rely more heavily upon C4 plants. If seasonal availability of high-quality food sources is important to Gunnison’s prairie dog population growth, projected changes in climate that alter the intensity or timing of these resource pulses could result in loss or decline of prairie dog populations. This project will test the hypothesis that population characteristics of Gunnison's prairie dog, an imperiled grassland herbivore, are associated with climate-based influences on pulses of plant growth.
Gunnison’s prairie dogs will be monitored at 6 colonies, with 3 colonies each occurring with the range of prairie and montane populations. Colonies for study within the prairie populations occur at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge (n = 3 prairie populations) and at Vermejo Park Ranch (n = 3 montane populations). Live-trapping of prairie dogs will be conducted during 3 periods of the active seasons—following emergence (April), after juveniles have risen to the surface (mid-to-late June), and pre-immergence (beginning in August). Trapping will occur for 3-day periods, following pre-baiting with open traps. At capture, sex and body mass of each individual will be recorded. Blood and subcutaneous body fat samples will be collected nondestructively for analysis of isotopic composition. Prairie dogs will be marked with dye, and released on site immediately following processing. After trapping periods at each site have concluded, population counts will be conducted during 2-3 re-sighting (or recapture) periods for each prairie dog colony. Resighting observation periods will be ~3 hours in length, and consist of 2-6 systematic scans of the entire colony, beginning and ending from marked points outside of the colony boundary. During each observation period, prairie dogs will be counted, recorded as marked or unmarked, and location on the colony noted.
Vegetation cover and composition measurements will be collected (or obtained at Sevilleta, where such data is already being collected) during pre- and post-monsoon periods of the active season. Total cover will be measured by plant species (or to genus if species is indeterminable). Total cover will be measured at 12 grid points per colony using Daubenmire frames (0.5 m x 0.5 m), and at 12 grid locations 200-800 m outside of each colony boundary. Adjacent to each Daubenmire frame, a 20 cm x 30 cm sample of vegetation will be clipped and dried for determination of volumetric moisture content of vegetation.
Primary productivity variables (cover, moisture content) will be tested for correlations to individual and population-level condition indicators in prairie dogs. Carbon isotope ratios (δ13C) from prairie dog blood and fat samples will be analyzed on a continuous flow isotope ratio mass spectrometer. The relative contribution of C3 and C4 plants to the diet of each individual will be determined based upon δ13C ratios for C3 and C4 plants in the study area and a 2-endpiont mixing model, and will be calculated for each individual animal, population and season. Population estimates will be calculated using mark-resight estimates, and compared to maximum above-ground counts. The influence of resource pulses on prairie dog population parameters will be tested by comparing the vegetation cover, moisture content, and ratio of total C3:C4 plant cover to the ratio of C3:C4 plants in prairie dog diets, population estimates, and juvenile:adult ratios as an index to population recruitment.
*Instrument Name: Continuous flow isotope ratio mass spectrometer
*Manufacturer: Thermo-Finnigan IRMS Delta Plus
*Instrument Name: Elemental Analyzer
*Model Number: ECS4010
Other Field Crew Members: Talbot, William; Duran, Ricardo; Gilbert, Eliza; Donovan, Michael; Nichols, Erv; Sevilleta LTER prairie dog field crew led by Koontz, Terri; Sevilleta NWR prairie dog field crew led by Erz, Jon.
Tissue samples are analyzed for stable carbon isotope ratios in stable isotope laboratory operated by Dr. Zachary Sharp and Dr. Nicu-Viorel Atudorei of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of New Mexico.
The primary objective of this study is to examine the control that substrate quality and climate have on patterns of long-term decomposition and nitrogen accumulation in above- and below-ground fine litter. Of particular interest will be to examine the degree these two factors control the formation of stable organic matter and nitrogen after extensive decay.