Source: UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS submitted to
TARGETING RESTORATION OF DESERT GRASSLANDS TO MAXIMIZE BIODIVERSITY AT LANDSCAPE SCALES
Sponsoring Institution
National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Project Status
NEW
Funding Source
Reporting Frequency
Annual
Accession No.
0220578
Grant No.
2010-85101-20459
Project No.
ILLU-875-613
Proposal No.
2009-04462
Multistate No.
(N/A)
Program Code
94340
Project Start Date
Jan 1, 2010
Project End Date
Dec 31, 2013
Grant Year
2010
Project Director
Schooley, R. L.
Recipient Organization
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
URBANA,IL 61801
Performing Department
Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences
Non Technical Summary
Shrub encroachment into arid grasslands is an important environmental issue in many ecosystems worldwide. In the northern Chihuahuan Desert of the southwestern United States, patterns of shrub invasion are apparent even though the mechanisms underlying this process are unclear. Over the past 100 to 150 years, large areas of perennial grasslands have converted to shrubland communities. Invaded areas become dominated by creosotebush or honey mesquite. Grassland-to-shrubland transitions alter landscapes in dramatic ways. Shrub encroachment not only produces a change in the dominant plant life form, it also can increase soil erosion and run-off. These ecosystem changes often result in reduced rangeland productivity for livestock. Shrub encroachment fragments native grasslands leading to isolated, remnant patches that grassland-dependent wildlife species could have trouble finding and reaching. Some of these grassland wildlife species are of conservation concern and others are "keystone species" that have unique effects on the ecology of the Chihuahuan Desert. Hence, loss of desert grasslands has important consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. The desire to avoid these consequences has led to a search for restoration methods that can be widely applied to recover multiple functions of arid landscapes, improve ecological sustainability, and maintain rural lifestyles. The dominant strategy for restoration in the Chihuahuan Desert involves shrub control using herbicides. Expenditures for shrub control on public lands in the southwest are substantial. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in southwestern New Mexico has applied herbicide to 91,893 ha in the past 25 years at a cost of $3.7 million. Future expenditures planned under the Restore New Mexico initiative of the BLM are much higher. These expenses will be borne largely by the federal government. Relative to the enormous scope of these restoration efforts, our understanding of restoration outcomes and benefits is limited. What exactly do we get back, especially in terms of habitat for wildlife Can we apply herbicides more effectively in the future by targeting certain sites in which grassland wildlife will respond the strongest Our project will investigate responses by biodiversity to attempts to remove shrubs from large landscapes in New Mexico. We will focus on responses by plants, birds (non-game and quail), and keystone small mammals. Biodiversity patterns will be compared between sites treated with herbicides and untreated sites over a range of time scales (2 to 27 years after herbicide application). We will identify constraints to restoration so that our main extension partner, the BLM, can target future shrub-control efforts more effectively. Project results also will be disseminated to other stakeholders including grazing permittees and conservation groups. The final component of our integrated project is a broad education program developed by the Asombro Institute for Science Education for K-12 students and teachers in the Las Cruces, New Mexico area. The program will serve a largely Hispanic population, a group traditionally underrepresented in science careers.
Animal Health Component
50%
Research Effort Categories
Basic
25%
Applied
50%
Developmental
25%
Classification

Knowledge Area (KA)Subject of Investigation (SOI)Field of Science (FOS)Percent
1210799107015%
1350850107020%
1360820107020%
1360830107020%
1360850302025%
Goals / Objectives
The dominant strategy for grassland restoration in the Chihuahuan Desert and in other rangelands involves shrub control using herbicides. However, our understanding of restoration processes, outcomes, and benefits for these ecosystems is limited. Our overall goal is to quantify responses by terrestrial plant and animal biodiversity to grassland restoration practices in the Chihuahuan Desert applied at landscape scales. We anticipate partial restoration success on many sites due to multiple constraints. We will embrace this variation in biodiversity responses as a means to target and refine future applications through adaptive management by our main extension partner, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). We also seek to educate the local community in our rural study region so that future rangeland users have an appreciation of the multiple services that rangelands provide to guide long-term stewardship. Our project has tightly integrated research, extension, and education components with a set of interrelated objectives: (1) Measure short-term and long-term effects of herbicide treatments on distribution, abundance, viability, and diversity of multiple taxa including plants, birds, and keystone rodents. (2) Develop a mechanistic understanding of restoration responses and constraints by investigating communities and focal wildlife species. We will identify constraints to vegetation recovery and then construct predictive statistical models relating animal biodiversity responses to habitat structure and productivity. (3) Provide land management agencies with recommendations for targeting future sites and thus avoid costly treatments for areas with low potential to maintain or increase biodiversity. (4) Develop a practical monitoring scheme that can be used by land managers to assess shrub-control programs on additional areas and over longer time periods. (5) Create an education program on rangeland restoration and biodiversity for the local K-12 community through a partnership with the Asombro Institute for Science Education. Specific outputs from the project are directed at multiple target audiences: (1) Analysis of monitoring and experimental data on biodiversity responses to grassland restoration practices, and dissemination of knowledge to the broader scientific community via peer-reviewed publications, to the BLM and other stakeholders, and to K-12 teachers and students. (2) Initiating a geospatial database of restoration outcomes for the study region to be used by the BLM and other stakeholders. (3) Training of graduate students, undergraduate assistants, and BLM employees in ecological sampling and analysis. (4) Workshops with the BLM to allow for input on study design, interpretation, and effective application of results. (5) A K-12 education plan to enhance knowledge of rangeland conservation issues through curriculum development, teacher workshops, classroom programs, and the construction of an interpretive sign for a local nature park. This education plan will directly reach at least 4,000 K-12 students and 500 adults.
Project Methods
This study will focus on soil types favoring invasion by creosotebush within an extent roughly encompassing the Chihuahuan Desert within New Mexico. We will compare biodiversity responses following herbicide treatments on a short time scale (2 years) with a large field experiment and on longer time scales (14-27 years) with a quasi-experiment. For the short-term experiment, the BLM will apply tebuthiuron herbicide to 20 new sites. For each site, we will identify two 9-ha plots: one randomly selected control plot will not receive aerial application of herbicides, and the other plot will receive the treatment. We will collect pre-treatment data on all 40 plots, which will enable us to test hypotheses that restoration success is determined by site factors such as soil properties, remnant grass cover, and landscape context. Such knowledge is critical for effectively targeting future applications. We will collect post-treatment data two years after herbicide application. Response variables include shrub density, herbaceous plant cover, diversity of perennials, aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP), avian community structure and species abundances, and abundances of banner-tailed kangaroo rats (a keystone species). For the long-term quasi-experiment, we will randomly select 14 control-treatment pairs in which herbicide was applied to treatments between 22 and 27 years ago. We will randomly select another 14 control-treatment pairs in which herbicide was applied to treatments 14 to 18 years ago. Each "control" will be a nearby untreated area of similar size, soil texture, and topographic position. We also will select 10 grassland reference sites that have not been invaded by shrubs. On each site, we will sample three plots (9-ha each) for the same response variables as for the short-term experiment (except ANPP). Finally, we will use black-throated sparrows and banner-tailed kangaroo rats as focal species to investigate mechanisms underlying spatial variation in abundances. Our emphases will be on local demography, movements, and habitat selection. Our extension model has two components. The first will involve a cooperative design to produce feedback learning in the context of adaptive co-management by treating the district-wide shrub control program as a large-scale management experiment. Co-management occurs because the BLM applies the shrub control, the BLM and permittees establish post-shrub control grazing management, and permittees execute the management system. Second, we will use workshops to develop cooperative interpretations of the resulting data, paying special attention to varying interpretations of stakeholder groups. K-12 teachers and students will become active participants in this project through coordination with the Asombro Institute for Science Education. Age-appropriate classroom and schoolyard activities related to biodiversity and shrub removal will be integrated into the Institute's Schoolyard Desert Discovery Project, Science in the Classroom programs, and both two-day and two-week teacher workshops. The Asombro Institute uses a variety of formative and summative evaluation tools to assess all education programs.

Progress 01/01/12 to 12/31/12

Outputs
Target Audience: 1) Our extension partner, the Las Cruces District of the Bureau of Land Managment, who are applying herbicide treatments and making land-management decisions for large areas in New Mexico. 2) K-12 teachers and students in the greater Las Cruces area. Our education component is providing science education to K-12 students in a region that includes a large Hispanic population that is traditionally underrepresented in science careers. Changes/Problems: Nothing Reported What opportunities for training and professional development has the project provided? Our project provided training and professional development for 1) a Post-doctoral Scientist who then obtained a faculty position, 2) a Research Associate (post-MS) who continues to work on our project, 3) a Research Assistant (post-BS) whothenmoved on to graduate school,and 4) an undergraduate student. How have the results been disseminated to communities of interest? 1) Two papers were written in 2012 and submitted to peer-reviewed journals to disseminate our project results to researchers and restoration practitioners. These papers highlight results of historical herbicide treatments on communities of songbirds and lizards in the Chihuahuan Desert. 2) Results from our project were also disseminated via two presentations at a Shrub Symposium held at Lac Cruces, New Mexico. 3) We continually provide our extension partner, Las Cruces BLM, with updates of our research findings through formal workshops, informal dialogue, and field visits. 4) Our research approaches and results have been integrated into curricula and materials developed by Asombro Institute for Science Education. This educational component has reached many teachers and hundreds of K-12 students. What do you plan to do during the next reporting period to accomplish the goals? Research and Extension--Our focus for 2013 will be on completing statistical analysis of data sets from historical treatments, publishing peer-reviewedjournal articles, and continuing to monitor plant and animal responses on new, experimental treatments in cooperation with the relevant land-management agency, Las Cruces BLM. Education--We will hold a two-week teacher workshop for 16 teachers from the southern New Mexico region. Teachers will visit our field sites, learn about our project, and develop activities that can be taken back to schools to teach K-12 student about the scientific process, desert ecology, and biodiversity restoration. We also will produce an interpretive sign on desertification and habitat restoration that will be installed at the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park in Las Cruces, NM to educated students and the general public.

Impacts
What was accomplished under these goals? In 2012, we continued to collect research data from our 21 historical sites, which were treated with herbicides in the 1980s and 1990s, and paired untreated sites. Our sampling efforts were focused on: 1) estimating nesting success by songbirds, 2) determining abundances of a keystone species, the banner-tailed kangaroo rat, 3) collection of more than 200 samples of DNA for banner-tailed kangaroo rats to employ landscape genetics to identify constraints to site recolonization, 4) determining abundances of key species of ants, 5) evaluating responses by mesocarnivores using noninvasive sampling methods, and 6) measurement of soil properties through digging of soil pits and site classification. We also continued to collect baseline data on new, experimental treatments (1-2 years old) with a focus on monitoring vegetation, breeding songbirds, and banner-tailed kangaroo rats.

Publications


    Progress 01/01/11 to 12/31/11

    Outputs
    OUTPUTS: RESEARCH ACTIVITIES: A. Historical sites - We established 32 total study sites (16 treatment-reference pairs). The treated sites were sprayed with herbicide either during 1982-1989 (8 pairs) or 1995-2006 (8 pairs). Reference sites were nearby, untreated areas located on similar soils and topographic positions. On each site, we established three 1-km transects on which we sampled birds two times during spring-summer 2011. Community composition of birds was strongly affected by habitat changes induced by herbicide treatments. Multiple species were indicators for restored sites with increased grass cover including Cassin's sparrow and scaled quail. We also sampled lizard communities on site pairs during summer 2011. Lizard communities were affected by restoration. The dominant lizard species responded more strongly to abundance of keystone rodents (banner-tailed kangaroo rats) than to habitat structure. We also measured abundances of keystone rodents on site pairs. Abundance was related positively to treatment age and connectivity. Ecosystem functioning provided by this keystone rodent could take a decade or longer to recover. Lastly, we collected DNA from >100 individual banner-tailed kangaroo rats to investigate landscape genetics. B. Experimental sites - We established 9 pairs of new, experimental sites (9-ha each). Treated sites received herbicide application during fall 2010. We surveyed bird communities on all sites during spring-summer 2011. We also estimated abundances of banner-tailed kangaroo rats by counting active mounds on each site during October 2011. Data on bird communities and abundances of kangaroo rats serve as a baseline for evaluation of treatment effects. EXTENSION WORKSHOPS - We organized one workshop during 2011 with our extension partner, Las Cruces BLM. The workshop was held to obtain feedback regarding our initial research results and to plan future monitoring efforts. The workshop also was attended by biologists from the New Mexico Fish and Game Agency and a local environmental consulting group, La Tierra. EDUCATION PRODUCTS - The Asombro Institute for Science Education team has created six hands-on activities for middle school classrooms and schoolyards. All activities relate directly to biodiversity issues in New Mexico. All activities are aligned with New Mexico state standards and follow the general format of the Asombro Institute's award-winning Schoolyard Desert Discovery curriculum. Activities include: 1) Parking Lot Diversity, 2) Aquatic Life In Desert Lake, 3) Biodiversity and Natural Selection, 4) Schoolyard Plant and Arthropod Diversity, 5) Using Satellite Images to Explore Restore New Mexico Program, and 6) Biodiversity Board Game. Pilot testing of the activities in classrooms began in January 2011 and continued through May 2011. In addition, we have created Science Investigation Kits containing all of the equipment and consumable supplies needed to do these activities with a class of up to 30 students. These kits were loaned to teachers who participated in a workshop hosted June 2-3, 2011. PARTICIPANTS: INDIVIDUALS - 1) DR. ROBERT L. SCHOOLEY (PD). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Responsible for overall project management, coordination, and synthesis; managing overall budget; recruiting and supervising of postdoc responsible for investigating how keystone rodents respond to shrub removal treatments; and facilitating communication among co-PDs to ensure successful integration of the research, extension, and education components. 2) DR. JEFFREY F. KELLY (co-PD). University of Oklahoma. Responsible for recruiting and supervising the lead technician who will assist in investigating how diversity and demography of birds respond to restoration efforts; designing and analyzing segment related to bird community responses and demographics of focal bird species. 3) DR. BRANDON T. BESTELMEYER (co-PD). New Mexico State University. Lead role for extension component; responsible for communicating with the Las Cruces District of the BLM about study site selection and application of new herbicide treatments; supervising research technician employed through the Jornada LTER who will assist with extension activities and collection of soil and vegetation data. 4) DR. JEFFREY D. BRAWN (co-PD). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Contribute to overall project design and statistical analyses. 5) DR. STEPHANIE V. BESTELMEYER (co-PD). Asombro Institute for Science Education. Lead role for education component; development of curriculum, classroom programs, and teacher workshops; collaborate closely with Dr. Schooley to ensure effective integration of research and education components. 6) BRADLEY COSENTINO. Postdoctoral Research Associate. Collect and analyze data on responses of lizard communities and keystone rodents to treatments on historical sites and effects of restoration on landscape genetics of keystone rodents. 7) JOHN COFFMAN. New Mexico State University. Research Associate. Collect and analyze data on bird communities and vegetation on historical sites. 8) LAURA BURKETT. Jornada LTER. Manage GIS and spatial databases; collect and analyze data on bird communities and vegetation on new, experimental sites. 9) KEVIN SIERZEGA. Research Assistant. Collect data on responses by birds and keystone rodents. ORGANIZATIONS AND COLLABORATORS - University of Illinois, University of Oklahoma, New Mexico State University, Jornada LTER, Asombro Institute for Science Education, Las Cruces District of the Bureau of Land Management, La Tierra Environmental Consulting. TRAINING AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT - Postdoctoral Associate being trained at the University of Illinois; Graduate Student completed MS degree in Biology at New Mexico State University; Research Technician employed by Jornada LTER; BLM biologists from Las Cruces District; K-12 students and teachers in Las Cruces region. TARGET AUDIENCES: TARGET AUDIENCES AND EFFORTS - 1) Our extension partner, the Las Cruces District of BLM, who are applying herbicide treatments and making land-management decisions for large areas in New Mexico. 2) K-12 teachers and students in the greater Las Cruces area. Our education component is providing science education to K-12 students in a region that includes a large Hispanic population that is traditionally underrepresented in science careers. See Outputs section for details of education products being delivered by our project. PROJECT MODIFICATIONS: Nothing significant to report during this reporting period.

    Impacts
    RESEARCH AND EXTENSION: CHANGES IN KNOWLEDGE AND ACTION - Research data collected during 2011 have provided fundamental knowledge regarding how biodiversity is responding to grassland restoration efforts in the Chihuahuan Desert. These new insights have been shared with our cooperating management agency, Las Cruces BLM, so that the new knowledge can be applied to future land-use decisions. The Restore New Mexico program is based on the idea that control of invasive shrubs through landscape-scale application of herbicides will benefit biodiversity by improving habitat quality for grassland wildlife species. Our research is the first to test this hypothesis rigorously and thus provide useful knowledge to decision-makers and the public. EDUCATION: CHANGES IN KNOWLEDGE - In early pilot testing of activities with students, teachers have commented on the obvious increases in knowledge that students experience as they work through the hands-on activities. More formal evaluation of these changes will occur after activities have been finalized and are used in classrooms in the 2011/12 school year and beyond.

    Publications

    • No publications reported this period


    Progress 01/01/10 to 12/31/10

    Outputs
    OUTPUTS: RESEARCH ACTIVITIES A. Historical sites - We established 32 total study sites (16 treatment-reference pairs). The treated sites were sprayed with herbicide either during 1982-1989 (8 pairs) or 1995-2006 (8 pairs). Reference sites were nearby, untreated areas located on similar soils and topographic positions. On each site, we established three 1-km transects on which we sampled birds three times during spring-summer 2010. We have analyzed the community data for breeding birds using multivariate ordination techniques and responses by individual species using Indicator Species Analysis. Community composition of birds was strongly affected by habitat changes induced by herbicide treatments. Multiple species were indicators for restored sites with increased grass cover including Cassin's sparrow and scaled quail. We randomly selected 10 site pairs to sample birds twice during winter 2010-2011. B. Experimental sites - We established 8 pairs of new, experimental sites (9-ha each). Treated sites received herbicide application during fall 2009. The treatment was randomly allocated within a pair. We surveyed bird communities on all sites during spring-summer 2010. We also estimated abundances of a keystone species, banner-tailed kangaroo rats, by counting active mounds on a 6-ha portion of each site during October 2010. Data on bird communities and abundances of kangaroo rats serve as a baseline for evaluation of treatment effects. EXTENSION WORKSHOPS - We organized two workshops during 2010 with our extension partner, Las Cruces BLM. One workshop was held in spring to discuss study site selection, sampling strategies, and future herbicide treatments. The second workshop was held in fall to discuss impressions from the first field season and plans for the winter field season. Workshops also were attended by biologists from the New Mexico Fish and Game Agency and a local environmental consulting group, La Tierra. EDUCATION PRODUCTS - The Asombro Institute for Science Education team has created six hands-on activities for middle school classrooms and schoolyards. All activities relate directly to biodiversity issues in New Mexico, specifically focusing on this project's major research areas. All activities are aligned with New Mexico state standards and follow the general format of the Asombro Institute's award-winning Schoolyard Desert Discovery curriculum. Activities include: 1) PARKING LOT DIVERSITY, 2) AQUATIC LIFE IN A DESERT LAKE, 3) BIODIVERSITY AND NATURAL SELECTION, 4) SCHOOLYARD PLANT AND ARTHROPOD DIVERSITY, 5) USING SATELLITE IMAGES TO EXPLORE RESTORE NEW MEXICO PROGRAM, and 6) BIODIVERSITY BOARD GAME. Pilot testing of the activities in classrooms will begin in January 2011 and continue through May 2011. So far, activities have been piloted for more than 200 students in 8 classrooms. In addition, we have created Science Investigation Kits containing all of the equipment and consumable supplies needed to do these activities with a class of up to 30 students. These kits will be loaned to teachers who participate in the workshop we will host on June 2-3, 2011. PARTICIPANTS: INDIVIDUALS - 1) DR. ROBERT L. SCHOOLEY (PD). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Responsible for overall project management, coordination, and synthesis; managing overall budget; recruiting and supervising of postdoc responsible for investigating how keystone rodents respond to shrub removal treatments; and facilitating communication among co-PDs to ensure successful integration of the research, extension, and education components. 2) DR. JEFFREY F. KELLY (co-PD). University of Oklahoma. Responsible for recruiting and supervising the lead technician who will assist in investigating how diversity and demography of birds respond to restoration efforts; designing and analyzing segment related to bird community responses and demographics of focal bird species. 3) DR. BRANDON T. BESTELMEYER (co-PD). New Mexico State University. Lead role for extension component; responsible for communicating with the Las Cruces District of the BLM about study site selection and application of new herbicide treatments; supervising research technician employed through the Jornada LTER who will assist with extension activities and collection of soil and vegetation data. 4) DR. JEFFREY D. BRAWN (co-PD). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Contribute to overall project design and statistical analyses. 5) DR. STEPHANIE V. BESTELMEYER (co-PD). Asombro Institute for Science Education. Lead role for education component; development of curriculum, classroom programs, and teacher workshops; collaborate closely with Dr. Schooley to ensure effective integration of research and education components. 6) JOHN COFFMAN. New Mexico State University. Graduate Research Assistant. Collect and analyze data on bird communities and vegetation on historical sites. 7) LAURA BURKETT. Jornada LTER. Manage GIS and spatial databases; collect and analyze data on bird communities and vegetation on new, experimental sites. ORGANIZATIONS AND COLLABORATORS - University of Illinois, University of Oklahoma, New Mexico State University, Jornada LTER, Asombro Institute for Science Education, Las Cruces District of the Bureau of Land Management, La Tierra Environmental Consulting. TRAINING AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT - Graduate Student completing MS degree in Biology at New Mexico State University; Research Technician employed by Jornada LTER; BLM biologists from Las Cruces District; K-12 students and teachers in Las Cruces region. TARGET AUDIENCES: TARGET AUDIENCES AND EFFORTS - 1) Our extension partner, the Las Cruces District of BLM, who are applying herbicide treatments and making land-management decisions for large areas in New Mexico. 2) K-12 teachers and students in the greater Las Cruces area. Our education component is providing science education to K-12 students in a region that includes a large Hispanic population that is traditionally underrepresented in science careers. See Outputs section for details of education products being delivered by our project. PROJECT MODIFICATIONS: Nothing significant to report during this reporting period.

    Impacts
    RESEARCH AND EXTENSION: CHANGES IN KNOWLEDGE AND ACTION - Research data collected during 2010 have provided fundamental knowledge regarding how biodiversity is responding to grassland restoration efforts in the Chihuahuan Desert. These new insights have been shared with our cooperating management agency, Las Cruces BLM, so that the new knowledge can be applied to future land-use decisions. The Restore New Mexico program is based on the idea that control of invasive shrubs through landscape-scale application of herbicides will benefit biodiversity by improving habitat quality for grassland wildlife species. Our research is the first to test this hypothesis rigorously and thus provide useful knowledge to decision-makers and the public. EDUCATION: CHANGES IN KNOWLEDGE- In early pilot testing of activities with students, teachers have commented on the obvious increases in knowledge that students experience as they work through the hands-on activities. More formal evaluation of these changes will occur after activities have been finalized and are used in classrooms in the 2011/12 school year and beyond.

    Publications

    • No publications reported this period