Shrub Encroachment Early Detection System (SEEDS): a rangeland conservation tool

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2019: $24,994.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2022
Host Institution Award ID: G147-20-W7503
Grant Recipient: University of Arizona
Region: Western
State: Arizona
Graduate Student:
Principal Investigator:
Steven Archer
The University of Arizona
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Willem van Leeuwen
University of Arizona, Arizona Remote Sensing Center

Information Products


  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial)
  • Additional Plants: native plants, trees
  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: meat


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, feed management, free-range, grazing management, grazing - continuous, grazing - rotational, range improvement, rangeland/pasture management, stocking rate
  • Crop Production: forest/woodlot management
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, display, extension, networking, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, risk management
  • Natural Resources/Environment: afforestation, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, habitat enhancement, indicators, soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: competition, field monitoring/scouting
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, partnerships, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Rangelands (e.g., grasslands, savanna, shrubland and woodland ecosystems) constitute ~50% of the Earth’s land surface and support the majority of the world’s livestock production. Rangelands also play integral roles in the global carbon, water, and nitrogen cycles and human health due to their extensive coverage. Many rangelands have undergone a shift from herbaceous plants to shrubs resulting in a decline of valuable livestock forage (e.g., perennial grasses). This phenomenon, known as “woody plant encroachment” or “shrub encroachment”, represents ecosystem degradation in arid and semi-arid regions and is typically accompanied by increases in bare soil and soil erosion. Efforts to limit shrub encroachment into rangelands include a variety of reactive brush management practices that remove or reduce the woody species via prescribed fire, mechanical, and/or herbicidal treatments. However, results of such actions are often short-lived and are seldom cost-effective or sustainable.

    Instead of a reactive approach, preventative actions might be more ecologically sound and cost-effective for limiting shrub encroachment. I propose to develop SEEDS (Shrub Encroachment Early Detection System), a user-friendly tool (e.g., online application) that can be used as a first-step to promote preventative and proactive alternatives to reactive brush management. SEEDS will combine data from the literature and active research projects designed to understand how shrubs establish in grasslands with remote sensing and geospatial landscape-scale data sets to predict areas at risk for shrub encroachment. The goals for SEEDS are to (1) alert land managers, livestock producers, and citizen scientists to critical times and locations for inventory and monitoring for shrub invasion, (2) identify windows of opportunity for early intervention/brush management, and (3) assist in prioritization of shrub encroachment mitigation efforts at the scale of allotments/pastures.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The goal is to develop a SEEDS (Shrub Encroachment Early Detection System) framework for federal, state, and county land managers/rangeland specialists, ranchers, and the general public as a proactive and preventative measure to woody plant encroachment (WPE) to maximize the effectiveness of brush management strategies. Specific objectives are to:

    (1) Compile published research on WPE to identify the primary drivers of and controls over woody plant establishment.

    (2) Utilize existing remote sensing products and geospatial data (e.g., ecological site, soil type, depth to restrictive layer, precipitation, temperature, elevation, slope, etc.) to model WPE risk.

    (3) Develop the SEEDS application.

    1. Combining models from (2), perform statistical analyses and validation of spatially explicit WPE risk.
    2. Create functions that enable spatially explicit user input (e.g., land use, stocking rates, management unit boundaries, etc.) within a GIS (Geographic Information System).
    3. Link Objectives 1-3 within the SEEDS framework to predict when, where, and under what conditions a given pasture/allotment will be at risk for WPE.

    (4) Test and refine the SEEDS algorithms to maximize their accuracy for predicting WPE risk.

    Areas identified as being at high risk for WPE could then be subject to monitoring and plans made for preventative measures (e.g., prescribed fire) to be used before encroachment progresses to the point where more expensive, less effective approaches are necessitated.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.