Soil Disturbance Impacts Range Resilience to Climate Change

USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and collaborators from the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment tested how soil disturbance influences the response of U.S. Great Plains rangeland to climate change. The study, published in Global Change Biology, shows that effects of increased carbon dioxide and warming differ significantly in disturbed rangeland compared to intact native rangeland. Testing conducted in mixed-grass prairie in southeastern Wyoming over a five-year period evaluated plant production, plant diversity, and soil carbon levels on both disturbed and undisturbed plots that were exposed to high levels of carbon dioxide and warm temperatures. On disturbed prairie, higher carbon dioxide levels led to high production of invasive knapweed and a decline in species diversity. On intact prairie, higher carbon dioxide led to moderate increases in plant production and increased plant diversity. The disturbed prairie also experienced greater carbon loss at higher temperatures.