The content of this page supplements chapter 6 in Mountains and Plains (2nd edition).  Readers with questions are encouraged to contact us.

Old-growth grasslands

Veldman, J.W., E. Buisson, G Durigan, et al. 2015. Toward an old-growth concept for grasslands, savannas, and woodlands. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 13:154-162.  doi:10.1890/140270

This paper extends the old-growth concept to grasslands, summarizing the characteristics of some native grasslands that make them comparable to old-growth forests.  The authors point out how such grasslands have great value and that recently restored grasslands do not provide the same benefits. This paper is helpful in setting goals for grassland conservation and restoration.

New research on the effects of climate change in grasslands

Zelikova, T. J., D. M. Blumenthal, D. G. Williams, et al. 2014. Long-term exposure to elevated CO2 enhances plant community stability by suppressing dominant plant species in a mixed-grass prairie. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111:15456-15461. 

Based on research done on the mixed-grass prairie west of Cheyenne, this study found that experimentally-elevated atmospheric CO2 enabled grassland plants to maintain relatively high growth during dry years over an 8-year period, in comparison to decreases in plant growth in plots where the CO2 was not elevated during the same period of time. Grassland plant growth decreased across the board during dry years, but the effect of drought was less severe with higher CO2 concentrations.  The higher CO2 strongly favored the growth of sub-dominant plants, which buffered the grassland against drought and thereby conferred "ecological resistance" to the effects of fluctuating amounts of annual precipitation on overall plant growth (net primary productivity).

More on the effects of climate change on rangeland management:

Briske, D.D., L.A. Joyce, H. W. Polley, et al. 2015. Climate-change adaptation on rangelands: linking regional exposure with diverse adaptive capacity. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 13: 249-256.  doi:10.1890/140266

Mixed-grass prairie at ~7,000 feet elevation in the Laramie Basin
Photo by Ken Driese