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Evapotranspiration from Northern Semiarid Grasslands

Frank, A. B.
Agronomy journal 2003 v.95 no.6 pp. 1504
Pascopyrum smithii, evapotranspiration, prairies, arid lands, forage crops, water quantity, grazing, dry matter accumulation, leaf area index, solar radiation, canopy, light, crop yield, soil water content, North Dakota
Management of forage production for livestock grazing on semiarid grasslands depends on water availability. Evapotranspiration (ET) was measured using the Bowen ratio energy balance method on three grasslands at Mandan, ND: a nongrazed mixed-grass prairie (prairie), a grazed mixed-grass prairie (grazed prairie), and a grazed western wheatgrass [ (Rybd) Löve] site (western wheatgrass). Measurements were made from 24 April to 17 October (the growing period) in 1996, 1997, and 1998. Peak ET rates generally coincided with periods of peak biomass production and occurred between early July and early August. Peak biomass averaged 1097 kg ha for the prairie, 1227 kg ha for grazed prairie, and 1725 kg ha for western wheatgrass, and peak leaf area index averaged 0.38 for the prairie, 0.44 for grazed prairie, and 0.59 for western wheatgrass. Growing period (175 d) ET averaged 489 mm for the prairie, 455 mm for the grazed prairie, and 497 mm for the western wheatgrass while growing period precipitation averaged 320 mm. Evapotranspiration of grazed prairie was 7% less than nongrazed prairie and 8% less than western wheatgrass. Evapotranspiration of the nongrazed prairie and the grazed western wheatgrass were similar. The ratio of the latent heat of ET to net radiation averaged 0.25 for grazed prairie and 0.28 for prairie, suggesting that grazing changed the canopy structure and energy budget components that affected ET. These results suggest that in a semiarid environment, proper grazing of prairie grasslands conserves soil water.