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A century of grazing: The value of long-term research

Sanderson, Matt A., Liebig, Mark A., Hendrickson, John R., Kronberg, Scott L., Toledo, David, Derner, Justin D., Reeves, Justin L.
Journal of soil and water conservation 2016 v.71 no.1 pp. 5A-8A
agroecosystems, arid lands, data collection, drought, grazing, indigenous species, long term experiments, prairies, rangelands, research, resource management, scientists, social change, soil water, steers, weight gain, North Dakota
A century ago, a small group of scientists at Mandan, ND set out to answer a very practical question: how many acres of native prairie does it take to sustainably support a steer during the grazing season? Part of that original experiment continues today as one of the longest running experiments in North America. In addition to answering the original question, scientists gathered some of the first data on grazing resilience of native grasses, determined the critical role of soil moisture in maintaining rangeland productivity on the semi-arid northern plains, and generated applied ecological insights on the persistence and resilience of native prairie during the worst drought of the last millennium. This long-term study continues to serve as a unique and valuable resource. Important long-term ecological and resource management questions such as vegetation, soil, and cattle weight gain changes with respect to weather, management, etc., simply cannot be answered with short-term data. Leveraging existing long-term data with formation of the Long-Term Agro-Ecosystem network and the National Ecological Observatory Network can allow us to peer into the future of the northern Great Plains. The question in the 21st century is a similar one: How do we sustainably intensify agroecosystems in an era of climatic and social changes? Our challenge is to exhibit the same foresight of Sarvis and other scientists to develop research that is still relevant in 100 years.