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2020 Monitoring Results Sandhills Rangeland Monitoring Cooperative (SRMC)

The SRMC project aims to conduct and evaluate monitoring data on a growing number of ranches in the Nebraska Sandhills, connecting ranchers, scientists, and the public in knowledge exchange relating to rangeland health and management. 2020 monitoring results were compiled and analyzed by region and will be discussed here.

Two Sandhills Regions

A total of 87 monitoring sites across 9 SRMC ranches made up the 2020 monitoring season. Ranches were grouped into two regions (western sandhills and central sandhills) as shown in the figure below. Four ranches were in the western sandhills and had 36 uplands study sites (n=36), while five ranches were in the central sandhills with 51 uplands study sites (n=51).

Bringing the Data Together

Data collected during the 2020 monitoring season (July-September) were made into boxplots and displayed in graphs on the following pages. These graphs show percent cover, frequency of occurrence, and dry weight rank for rangeland plants in upland sites on the 2020 SRMC ranches grouped by region.

What is a boxplot, and how do I interpret it?

A boxplot is a way to display a group of data points by the average, median, upper quartile, lower quartile, minimum, and maximum values as well as the outliers. The figure below describes these terms and outlines how to read a boxplot.

2020 Results by Region

Percent Cover on Uplands

Percent cover describes the percent of ground surface covered by litter, bare ground, or bases of live plants (basal live veg.) on a site. In sandhills rangelands, prevalent bare ground indicates a risk of wind and water erosion. Litter can act as a beneficial mulch for live vegetation throughout the growing season.

Out of 36 upland sites in the western sandhills region, litter dominated ground cover with the majority of ranches having between 548-70% with an average of 60%. In the western sandhills, bare ground commonly ranged from about 12-30% with an average around 23%. Bases of live plants contributed 11-24% of the ground cover, averaging around 18%.
Out of 51 upland sites in the central sandhills region, litter again dominated ground cover with the majority of ranches having between 68-82% with an average of 73%. In the central sandhills, bare ground commonly ranged from about 7-19% with an average around 13%. Bases of live plants were mostly found to be between 9-19% of the ground cover, averaging around 15%.

Comments on 2020 Percent Cover Results

On both western and the central sandhills ranches, litter was the dominant component of ground cover on uplands, dunetops, and slopes, with the maximums reaching between 75 and 82%. Average and maximum bare ground tended to be higher on the western sandhills upland sites, while basal live vegetation were similar in both regions.

Frequency of Occurrence

Frequency of occurrence monitoring can pick up trends and changes in rangeland vegetation. It highlights how commonly a species is observed across a site. If you put a grid of quadrats along a landscape, it depicts the percent frequency at which you would see these species.

Upland Grasses

Out of the 36 upland sites in the western sandhills region, the top 3 most frequent grasses include prairie sandreed, sedge, and sand bluestem. The width of the boxes in the graph above indicates variability in that species. Blue grama, for example, has a maximum of 98% and a minimum of 0%, meaning that is is highly variable and can exist at a very high frequency or not at all within this region.
Out of the 51 upland sites in the central sandhills region, the top 3 most frequent grasses include little bluestem, sedge, and prairie sandreed, with prairie scribners rosette grass, switchgrass, and sand bluestem not far behind. Noticeably, scribners rosette grass has high variability and exists on some sites with 98% frequency while not at all on others.

Frequency of Occurrence

Upland Forbs and Shrubs

Out of the 36 upland sites in the western sandhills region, the top 3 most frequent forbs include western ragweed, tarragon and cutleaf ironplant.
Out of the 34 upland sites in the central sandhills region, the top 3 most frequent forbs include stiff sunflower, wild rose, and puccoon.

Comments on 2020 Frequency of Occurrence Results

In the uplands of the western sandhills, prairie sandreed and sand bluestem are the most frequent grasses along with sedge (a grass-like plant). However in the central sandhills little bluestem, sedge, and prairie sandreed are the most frequent along with sedge. Sandhill muhly was seen primarily in western sandhills upland sites, while switchgrass was seen in the central region. Sedge and needle grasses are common cool season species found in both regions, while rosette grasses are only commonly seen at central sandhills upland sites. Stiff sunflower was the most frequently observed species in the central sandhills uplands, while it was not found on any of the western sandhills sites in 2020.

Dry Weight Rank

Dry weight rank (DWR) is a visual semi qualitative measure of the amount that each plant contributes to total plant production. It is a way to estimate species composition in terms of production by dry weight. It will highlight the most productive species in the area.

Upland Grasses

Out of the 36 upland sites in the western sandhills region, the top 3 grasses by dry weight include prairie sandreed, sand bluestem, and sand dropseed.
Out of the 51 upland sites in the central sandhills region, the top 3 grasses by dry weight include little bluestem, prairie sandreed, and scribners rosette grass.

Dry Weight Rank

Upland Forbs and Shrubs

Out of the 36 upland sites in the western sandhills region, the top 3 forbs by dry weight include yucca, ten petal mentzelia, and sand sage.
Out of the 51 upland sites in the central sandhills region, the top 3 forbs by dry weight include stiff sunflower, western ragweed, and leadplant.

Comments on 2020 DWR Results

In the western sandhills upland sites, sand bluestem and prairie sandreed were the most important grasses by dry weight with maximums no more than 53%. However, in the central sandhills uplands, little bluestem dominated reaching a maximum of about 55% of total biomass. Yucca was seen only as a contributor in the western sandhills, while stiff sunflower was only seen as a contributor in the central sandhills reaching a maximum of about 20% of total biomass.

How to Use Monitoring Results

There are a number of ways you can interpret and use monitoring data, whether you have a single year or many years of data. One way is to compare your data to the target plant communities highlighted in the NRCS state and transition models for the ecological site you are monitoring. Monitoring data can help detect changes in plant communities over time and may highlight plant responses to grazing management strategies. The compiled data displayed here can be used when reviewing your own monitoring results by comparing your values with the averages, maximums, and minimums in your region. In this way you may be able to detect needs for reassessing management practices based on your goals (https://globalrangelands.org/topics/maintaining-and-improving-rangelands/rangeland-monitoring).