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Assessment of rangeland ecosystem conditions in Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, Arizona

May 13, 2020

Sustainability of dryland ecosystems depends on the functionality of soil-vegetation feedbacks that affect ecosystem processes, such as nutrient cycling, water capture and retention, soil erosion and deposition, and plant establishment and reproduction. Useful, common indicators can provide information on soil and site stability, hydrologic function, and biotic integrity. Evaluation of rangeland health thus relies on describing the condition and sustainability of these individual, measurable, and observable indicators that are linked to important ecosystem processes. This report focuses on the ~200,000 acres of the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument that is administered by the National Park Service (NPS)—one of the largest NPS units where livestock grazing is a permitted land-use activity. Many ecosystems in the monument are characterized by a low degree of resilience to improper grazing because of low and variable precipitation. The monument is marked by a high degree of environmental heterogeneity, including a large elevation gradient, widely differing precipitation patterns, a diversity of geologic substrates, and unique combinations of plant species.

The objective of this report is to (1) increase our understanding of the underlying landscape, soil, and climate setting factors that affect Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument dryland ecosystem structure and function (also referred to as land potential) and (2) characterize the condition of monument ecosystems in relation to management concepts, such as rangeland health.

Data were analyzed by elevation zone using both univariate and multivariate approaches. Survey results document the high level of diversity within the study area, including 15 unique soil taxa and 271 species of plants. We collected three new plant species for Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument and 17 new species for the NPS portion of the monument. Results also document a strong association between rangeland health indicators and elevation, topographic setting, and soils. Soil factors found to explain important variation across plots include the amount of exposed bedrock, soil rockiness, soil texture (and associated hydrologic properties), and soil depth. We also found that dominant species turnover across elevation may represent species’ differences in adaptation to climates, including Larrea tridentata, Coleogyne ramosissima, and Artemisia spp. Bromus rubens is the most common invasive species of concern recorded in this study, but other common invasive species are Bromus tectorum, Erodium cicutarium, and Schismus arabicus. Correlations between an index of cattle use and indicators of rangeland health suggest that areas with high cattle use have increased bare ground, decreased ground cover, increased frequency of Schismus arabicus, decreased cover of Coleogyne ramosissima and Ephedra spp., and increased cover of Gutierrezia spp. The few strong correlations observed between indicators of vascular plant community cover or abundance and indicators of cattle activity support rangeland assessment and monitoring strategies that do not rely solely on plant-based indicators are needed.

This work supports management of dryland ecosystems, including Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, using concepts of land potential. We conclude the report with recommendations on improving existing land-potential-based classification systems, associated interpretations, and methods for moving forward with a Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument rangeland monitoring program.

Publication Year 2020
Title Assessment of rangeland ecosystem conditions in Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, Arizona
DOI 10.3133/ofr20201040
Authors Michael C. Duniway, Emily C. Palmquist
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2020-1040
Index ID ofr20201040
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Climate Science Center