The utility of plant traits to identify range seeding candidates that can achieve multiple management goals

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2019: $342,481.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2022
Host Institution Award ID: G244-19-W7500
Grant Recipient: University of Arizona
Region: Western
State: Arizona
Principal Investigator:
Elise Gornish
University of Arizona
Dr. Albert Barberan
University of Arizona
Dr. Jeffrey Fehmi
University of Arizona
Dr. Mitch McClaran
University of Arizona
George Ruyle
University of Arizona

Information Products


  • Additional Plants: native plants


  • Animal Production: range improvement
  • Education and Training: extension, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, carbon sequestration, habitat enhancement, soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: prevention
  • Soil Management: soil analysis, soil microbiology

    Proposal abstract:

    Intensifying drought and increasing plant invasions create substantial challenges for ranchers and land managers to balance profitable cattle production and healthy ecosystems on western grasslands. Producer groups across the southwest note the urgent need for financially and ecologically viable approaches to address this challenge by maintaining stable forage production while restoring multiple essential ecosystem functions. Seeding native and non-native forage species based on traits that confer resilience to drying conditions and are also associated with these positive ecosystem functions may provide utility for allowing producers to achieve multiple management goals in the face of changing environmental conditions.


    We identified eight management goals (forage production, invasion resistance, drought resilience, carbon sequestration, soil fertility, erosion control, native biodiversity, and pollinator habitat) that producers noted as priorities, based on recent surveys across California and Arizona. Our proposed study will evaluate how reseeding plants with specific traits can provide ecosystem services to meet those management goals. We will perform this evaluation through on-ranch reseeding experiments in both central California and southern Arizona; regions with extensive productive rangelands that are particularly vulnerable to drought and plant invasion due to the semi-arid climate. Identifying plant trait-ecosystem service relationships will allow ranchers and land managers to select successful reseeding species to meet management goals. We will compare these relationships between two experimental sites to determine whether this reseeding approach can be applied to regions represented by the climate in central California and southern Arizona. In addition to directly engaging producers throughout the experiment, we will translate project outcomes into science-based recommendations via workshops, field days, and a best-practice manual for ranchers and land managers.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective 1: Quantify relationships between plant traits and our ability to meet stakeholder-prescribed management goals over three years.

    PI Gornish and co-PIs (Fehmi and Barberán) will ensure timely field sample/data collection and sample processing to obtain metrics of plant traits and ecosystem services at the peak biomass. They will also ensure proper statistical analysis to determine relationship between plant traits and ecosystem services achieved in the reseeding experiment. Based on our pilot field trials, we expect that seeding perennials will enhance forage production and quality while simultaneously supporting multiple ecosystem services.

    Objective 2: Evaluate whether the reseeding approach can achieve the targeted management goals in both experimental sites that represent the climate in California and  Arizona.

    These two regions differ in precipitation regimes, with central California grasslands dominated by a spring growing season and Arizona grasslands dominated by a summer growing season. Yet both semi-arid regions consist of extensive, productive rangelands that are vulnerable to drought and plant invasion. PI Gornish will ensure proper selection of plant species suited for each region and proper statistical analysis to compare data acquired from both states over the project period. We expect that management goals can be met in both sites when desirable plant species adapted to the precipitation regime in each region are selected.

    Objective 3: Develop stakeholder outreach and extension

    PI Gornish and co-PIs Roche and Ruyle will develop products that will translate project findings into science-based recommendations for managers throughout the project period. These products include the deployment of one workshop and one field day per year of the project in each state, presentations, and the development of a best practices manual in year 3, which will highlight the identity of plant traits that provide utility for achieving particular management goals.

    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.