The interaction of rangeland management and environmental conditions in regulating forage quality – quantity and other ecosystem services

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2012: $265,414.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:

Annual Reports

Information Products

Database draft (Book/Handbook)


  • Additional Plants: native plants
  • Animals: bovine, goats, sheep


  • Animal Production: grazing - continuous, grazing management, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, range improvement, grazing - rotational, stocking rate, watering systems, winter forage
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, biodiversity, habitat enhancement, indicators, riparian buffers, soil stabilization, wildlife
  • Pest Management: weed ecology
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management
  • Soil Management: soil chemistry, organic matter, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures


     California’s range managers have repeatedly identified two key research priorities: (1) management for multiple goals, and (2) site-specific recommendations.

    Our most effective approach to address these priorities is to learn from hundreds of on-the-ground management trials underway in rangelands across California’s diverse climate, soil, and topographical conditions. Bringing together results from rancher trials allows us to pull apart how yearly weather and site-specific conditions impact forage production and the delivery of ecosystem services (noxious weed control, diversity, erosion control, water quality, carbon sequestration). This, in turn, will help us to:

         – develop site-specific recommendations based on management goals

         – plan for droughts, high rainfall years, and future climate change.

    Our project is addressing these challenges by:

    1. Developing a web database of management practices and their impacts on ecosystem services. Data is entered by researchers and managers and is linked to a GIS model containing maps of soils, terrain, climate, and vegetation. This data is searchable through a web-based platform based on key words (e.g. management practices, goals) and map locations.
    1. Collecting data on the effects of management on multiple ecosystem services. Few projects document the impacts on multiple management goals. We have measured how sites differ in their provision of multiple ecosystem services (e.g. forage production, forage quality, erosion control, water infiltration and storage, carbon storage, fertility, weed control), and how management practices alter these services. Because the timing of this project coincided with a significant drought in California, all of the new field data collections focused on effective management during drought. Archived data compiled from other past projects provide information during non-drought conditions.
    1. Synthesizing. The database is being used to compile existing data sets, and to point out the types of practices, types of goals, and locations that are in need of more data. Regular meta-analysis of this database will synthesize;

    – how management practices influence multiple services

    – how the impacts of management practices vary by site and annual weather

    – the locations that provide high amounts of different ecosystem services (with or without management for them) and that provide low amounts of a given service, even with management.

    This project was jointly funded through Western SARE and UC ANR, and the UC ANR funding will provide the funding over the next year to release the key products.

    The database, along with associated tools (e.g. the monitoring handbook) are anticipated to go live by the end of 2016. The key strength of the database approach is that it will continue long after the funding period. The searchable database will enable managers to improve the effectiveness of their practices, based on results from others who have had similar goals in similar environmental conditions. As these improved practices are entered into the database, they will further improve the site-specific recommendations and maps. 

    Project objectives:

    Our overall goal is to enhance our ability to predict and manage the provisioning of multiple ecosystem services across a broad spectrum of environmental conditions in California’s rangelands.

    Objective 1. Assess how local to regional differences in environmental conditions determine:

    1. Site-specific potential to provide multiple ecosystem services.
    2. The impacts of range management practices on suites of ecosystem services, and which practices are most effective for a given service at a given site.
    3. How site conditions and management approaches determine the extent to which ecosystem services change in response to drought, and how they recover from drought. (This was added during the project and wasn’t part of the original proposal).

    Objective 2. Improve the effectiveness of range management by enhancing the availability of information for developing management plans.

    Performance targets for objectives 1 & 2:

    1. A web-based database has been developed. University of California Agriculture Natural Resources’ Communication Services and Information Technology (UC ANR CSIT) and Informatics and GIS Program (IGIS) were contracted to develop the database, since it could link with existing UC ANR tools (e.g., and hosting on the UC ANR platform can ensure long-term availability of the database. There were substantial delays with the development of the database, due to its unexpected complexity (needing to encompass many different management approaches, as well as multiple measurement approaches even for the same ecosystem service), and limited time availability of CSIT personnel who had the skills to undertake this type of project. The database and map interface have been built and are in the process of being integrated, with projected timelines of:
      1. September 2016- Database is available for entering our existing data.
      2. November 2016- Database webpage will be ready for public display, including case study entry, and database search capabilities.
    2. Data has been collected from 1,786 sites over the past four years, with 638 plots measured for more than one year, and 744 plots measured at least two times per year to get at seasonal changes. This has resulted in measuring more than 7,700 plots over the last four years (some for a single ecosystem service, such as production, but many for multiple ecosystem services). Collectively, this data provides information on multiple ecosystem services at a variety of management types and environmental conditions (see results/discussion section). These will be entered into the database once it is fully functional in September and October 2016, allowing for public release of the data in November 2016.
    3. Long-term records have been compiled from UC Research Stations, Professors, Cooperative Extension Specialists and Farm Advisors. These will be entered into the database during fall 2016. In addition, more data sets will be compiled and entered throughout 2017, including with collaborating groups such as: California Native Grasslands Association, East Bay Parks, Sacramento County Parks.
    4. To increase comparability of past studies, we have compiled the most common approaches to measuring key services (e.g. forage production) and have performed them across a number of sites, allowing us to make “correction factors” to more directly compare studies using different approaches. Data is being summarized from the spring of 2016 (we were not able to do this earlier in the project, assuming that drought conditions were not suitable for doing this testing). We’ll do broader testing in the 2016-17 growing season, since many sites were still in drought or drought recovery in spring of 2016, so the data may not be representative of more typical conditions.
    5. To increase comparability of future studies, we have developed a “Measuring Ecosystem Services Handbook” (which will be available on the web in print-friendly form by late 2016, once we have finished the “correction factors” described in #4). This has gone through several iterations based on stakeholder input. The original handbook focused on quantitative set of measures, appropriate for research, official monitoring programs, and managers who are enthusiastic to monitor the impacts of their practices. These include standardized, repeatable measures, similar to those originally proposed (e.g. infiltrometers to determine infiltration, cohesion testers to determine erosion potential, lab tests of soil to determine soil organic matter and water holding capacity, etc.). The second set of protocols is more informal, providing a quick, qualitative assessment by managers. For example, rather than official determination of invasive species cover, they would assess invasive cover by selecting the closest match in cover from 5-8 photos depicting different levels of invasion (this would calibrate across individual assessors). The same type of approach will occur for production, visible erosion events, and visible runoff (lack of water infiltration).
    6. Synthesize data. See results/discussion for topic-specific syntheses from field data that has been collected through this project. These syntheses will be updated and published (both in professional journals, as well as in “fact sheets” for managers), once all lab analyses of samples have been completed (spring 2017). In addition, broader syntheses, will occur once the data is fully inputted in to the database. These analyses will allow us to determine:
      1. Maps detailing the magnitude of ecosystem service provision at different sites, for multiple ecosystem services.
      2. Summaries of best management practices for different ecosystem services, and how those vary by site and year (weather conditions of that specific year).
      3. Summaries of best management practices for addressing multiple goals or to avoid key tradeoffs across goals.
      4. The first cut of these analyses will occur in Summer of 2017. Follow-up analyses will occur in subsequent years as more data is included in the database.
    7.  Outreach events to train managers on use of the database and monitoring approaches. The structure of the database was determined through extensive input from a wide variety of stakeholders, as well as by using a large number of data sets and case studies, to be sure the database can accommodate many different types of data and observations. From summer 2017 and beyond, we’ll be hosting field days and workshops through various UCCE locations and Resource Conservation Districts, and through our stakeholders’ workshops and annual meetings (e.g. California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, California Native Grasslands Association, California Invasive Plant Council).
    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.