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Vegetation changes in Conservation Reserve Program lands in interior Alaska

Seefeldt, Steven S., Conn, Jeffery S., Zhang, Mingchu, Kaspari, Phil N.
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2010 v.135 no.1-2 pp. 119
Conservation Reserve Program, conservation areas, vegetation, botanical composition, species diversity, plant communities, temporal variation, grasslands, agricultural land, shrublands, ecological succession, land management, introduced plants, grasses, forbs, indigenous species, trees, shrubs, Alaska
Over 14 million hectares of erosion prone cropland in the United States has been converted into grasslands through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) administered by the United States Department of Agriculture, however, studies of the effects of CRP enrollment on plant communities and subsequent plant succession are largely lacking. In Delta Junction, Alaska plant communities in CRP fields are transitioning from grasslands to shrub dominated plant communities, which are resulting in compliance problems with program regulations that state “fields must be maintained in a condition that permits easy conversion to cropland”. To determine plant succession and how previous land management and soils might influence the transition, we measured plant populations in 20 CRP fields throughout Delta Junction using modified-Whittaker plots. These data were combined with data on current management practices, previous farming history, soils, soil properties, diversity indices, and time since land was cleared and analyzed with nonmetric multidimensional scaling ordination to determine factors that influence plant succession. Time in the CRP was the only factor consistently influencing plant succession. As time in the CRP increased, the planted introduced grasses brome grass (Bromus inermis) and red fescue (Festuca rubra) and the native pteridophyte (Equisetum arvense) decreased, whereas a native grass (Calamigrostis canadensis), five native forb, two native shrub, and three native tree species increased. Plant diversity increased at a rate of more than 2 species per 1000m² per year. Regression analyses of plant species and plant groups using time in the CRP as the dependent variable resulted in the identification of outlier CRP fields with significantly more or less than expected covers of vegetation. All fields with these outliers had reasonable explanations for the differences in cover that were unrelated to the overall rate of plant succession. Current management practices will result in incompliant fields and different management practices that result in woody vegetation control is key to maintaining CRP fields in compliance.