Got Shrubs? Woody plants are changing ecological communities around the globe

The Knights Who Say “Ni” would be delighted by a growing trend across many of the planet’s major biomes—tree and grass species are being taken over by shrubbery. Unfortunately, this phenomenon isn’t so favorable for native vegetation that struggles to compete with an invading shrub army (the term ecologists often use is ‘woody plant encroachment’)…. Read more »

LTER Road Trip: X Marks the Spot in the Jornada Desert

A ConMod sits between grass clumps.

In the center of the grassland and shrubland of the Jornada LTER, I gaze across short mesh nets, arranged in an X and stretching approximately one foot across in each direction, sitting unobtrusively on the ground between mesquite, bushes, and snakeweed bunches. Spherical cottontail rabbit pellets congregated in the low places, and John Anderson, Research… Read more »

LTER Road Trip: Lessons Near and Far from Jornada

What plant communities can tell us about rodents Dr. Debra Peters has spent over 20 years studying changes across 15 study sites in the Jornada Basin, which take an immense amount of effort to monitor three times a year. Field technicians fan out across the landscape, measuring the volume of plant line and estimating new… Read more »

LTER Road Trip: Understanding Change in a New Mexico Desert

The land that now encompasses the Jornada Basin Long Term Ecological Research site has been impacted by people for centuries. Native Americans once camped here between the mountain ranges during the summer months, gathering grasses and burning mesquite for fuel. In the 19th century, cattle ranchers moved in from the east, drawn by the same… Read more »

A bigger role for light in dryland decomposition

decomposing leaf

Credit: CC BY-NC 2.0 Alison Hurt https://flic.kr/p/5ZuUYIt’s kind of amazing what you can learn by taking a fresh look at old data. A re-analysis of data from a large and influential decomposition experiment suggests that—at least in arid lands—the degradation of organic matter by light plays a much bigger role than previously understood. Back in… Read more »

What (and when) is the point-of-no-return?

How-and when-do ecosystems change character? Are those shifts reversible? And what signs might precede them? Such questions are hard enough to answer in a single place. One might think that incorporating different kinds of ecosystems would only complicate the problem. But a group of scientists in the Long-Term Ecological Research Network is finding a remarkably consistent pattern by combining models and data across several long-term ecological experiments.

Climate variability predicted to affect outcome of exotic grass invasion

Novel ecosystems can emerge through many kinds of changes, including changes in mean climate, species invasions, and increased or decreased variability. Researchers at Jordana Basin LTER have highlighted the role of interannual climate variability in changing the outcome when an exotic grass species invades dry shrubland. Using a process-based model, they predicted three outcomes, depending on the degree of variability and timing relative to invasion.

Desert Data Jam Award Winners

The Desert Data Jam is a unique competition that challenges students to make creative projects (such as songs, physical models, children’s stories, infographics, and games) that convey complex ecological data to nonscientists. In this sixth year of the Desert Data Jam, more than 400 students participated. The top five projects from each participating class were… Read more »

Beyond desertification: New models for state change in drylands

Landscape in the Chihuahuan desert

Talk Description: One of the classic state-change stories is that over-grazing and drought turn grasslands into shrubby, degraded landscapes. Land managers strive to avoid such irreversible changes, using strategies based on models of how ecosystems change. But misapplication of models can lead to poor management outcomes. Researchers at the Jornada Basin LTER site and its… Read more »