2024 Undergraduate Research Showcase

Dynamic Plant-Soil Relationships Determine Forage Nutrition for Sheep Grazing in a Degraded Landscape

Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date

4-19-2024

Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Kelly Hopping

Abstract

Invasive grasses, such as cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), compete with native plants and are a hazardous fuel source for wildfires that degrade sagebrush steppe ecosystems. Beginning in July 2022, in partnership with sheep producers and with the Sawtooth National Forest, we began conducting an experiment investigating if and how targeted grazing with sheep can be used for cheatgrass suppression. Targeted grazing is a regulated practice in which sheep herders guide sheep through designated plots with high cheatgrass abundance, at a higher grazing intensity, and at different seasonal timings than their traditional summer grazing practices. In our 32 experiment plots, we collected plant and soil data to better understand the ecological relationships and effects of targeted sheep grazing in these degraded areas. As sagebrush steppe ecosystems invaded with cheatgrass undergo degradation, studying how native plants compete with invasive species for available minerals in the soil is crucial in understanding plant-soil relationships in a degraded landscape.

Finding how mineral concentrations differ between plant groups is important as we can answer the following question: What is the accessibility of minerals in native and invasive plants for sheep grazing in cheatgrass-dominated landscapes? Further, we can investigate if sheep nutritional requirements are likely being met through consumption of growing vegetation in these areas.

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