A landscape-scale assessment of plant communities, hydrologic processes, and state-and-transition theory in a Western juniper dominated ecosystem Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/sq87bw63d

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  • Western juniper has rapidly expanded into sagebrush steppe communities in the Intermountain West during the past 120 years. This expansion has occurred across a wide range of soil types and topographic positions. These plant communities, however, are typically treated in current peer-reviewed literature generically. The focus of this research is to investigate watershed level response to Western juniper encroachment at multiple topographic positions. Data collected from plots used to measure vegetation, soil moisture, and infiltration rates show that intercanopy sites within encroached Western juniper communities generally exhibit a significant decrease in intercanopy plant density and cover, decreased infiltration rates, increased water sediment content, and lower soil moisture content. High-resolution remotely sensed imagery and Geographic Information Systems were used with these plot level measurements to characterize and model the landscape-scale response for both biotic and abiotic components of a Western juniper encroached ecosystem. These data and their analyses included an inventory of plant density, plant cover, bare ground, gap distance and cover, a plant community classification of intercanopy patches and juniper canopy cover, soil moisture estimation, solar insulation prediction, slope and aspect. From these data, models were built that accurately predicted shrub density and shrub cover throughout the watershed study area, differentiated by aspect. We propose a new model of process-based plant community dynamics associated with current state-and-transition theory. This model is developed from field measurements and spatially explicit information that characterize the relationship between the matrix mountain big sagebrush plant community and intercanopy plant community patterns occurring within a Western juniper dominated woodland at a landscape scale. Model parameters (states, transitions, and thresholds) are developed based on differences in shrub density and cover, steady-state infiltration rates, water sediment content, and percent bare ground in response to juniper competition and topographic position. Results from both analysis of variance and multivariate hierarchical cluster analysis indicate that states, transitions, and thresholds can be accurately predicted for intercanopy areas occurring within the study area. In theory, this model and the GIS-based layers produced from this research can be used together to predict states, transitions, and thresholds for any location within the extent of the study area. This is a valuable tool for assessing sites at risk and those that have exceeded the ability to self-repair.
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