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Hydrologic response of diverse western rangelands

Pierson, F.B., Spaeth, K.E., Weltz, M.A., Carlson, D.H.
Journal of range management 2002 v.55 no.6 pp. 558
rangelands, hydrology, mathematical models, equations, botanical composition, rainfall simulators, runoff, canopy, soil water content, sediment yield, prairies, rangeland soils, prairie soils, steppe soils, biomass, brush control, sheet erosion, grasses, Artemisia, forbs, Carex, plant communities, plant litter, Rocky Mountain region, California
There are several generalizations or assumptions concerning rangeland hydrology and erosion relationships found in the literature and in the management arena. These generalizations have found their way into rangeland models, where modelers have assumed that diverse rangeland types can be lumped or averaged together in some way to develop one algorithm or equation to describe a process or relationship across the entire spectrum of rangeland types. These assumptions and modeling approaches based on the universal concept may not be appropriate for diverse rangeland types. This paper presents a comprehensive data set of vegetation, soils, hydrology, and erosion relationships of diverse western rangelands, and utilizes the data to assess the validity of the various assumptions/generalizations for rangelands. The data set emphasizes the difficulty in understanding hydrologic responses on semiarid rangelands, where the relationship between plant/soil characteristics and infiltration/erosion is not well established. When all sites were pooled together, infiltration and sediment production were not correlated with any measured vegetation or soil characteristic. A myriad group of factors determine infiltration and erosion, and is dependent on rangeland type and site conditions. The infiltration and erosion responses and correlation/regression analyses presented highlight the risk of using generalized assumptions about rangeland hydrologic response and emphasize the need to change the current modeling approach. Universal algorithms to represent the response of all rangeland types, such as the pooled multiple regression equations presented, will not provide sufficient accuracy for prediction or assessment of management. We need to develop a rationale to organize rangeland types/vegetation states according to similarities in relationships and responses. These functional rangeland units would assist in the development of more accurate predictive equations to enhance model performance and management of rangelands.