Every ecosystem around the world has potentially hundreds of living species that can be affected by a change in that ecosystem, whether natural or manmade. What can be good for the survival of one species might have detrimental effects on another species, so a critical balance must be maintained in order to preserve all living things in the ecosystem, according to researchers at Texas Tech University. Quantitative research can determine if certain ecological preservation practices are having the prescribed results while not harming that balance.
Blake Grisham, an assistant professor in the Texas Tech department of natural resources management, is spearheading a research group with just such a goal.
Together, the group members are attempting to determine how prescribed fire and grazing practices for the lesser prairie-chicken in New Mexico affect beef herd health and productivity, Texas Tech said.
Their two-year research project has been bolstered by a grant of more than $289,000 from the Center of Excellence for Hazardous Materials Management. They will take already established methods of fire and grazing management in lesser prairie-chicken habitats and determine if those practices are affecting the health of the cattle, a critical socioeconomic driver for the region.
"In previous assessments on prescribed grazing, emphasis was on understanding how variation in intensity and magnitude of these ecological drivers affects vegetation composition and structure as well as lesser prairie-chicken demographics," Grisham said. However, he added that "quantitative, scientific data pertaining to overall beef herd health and productivity for local producers are lacking."
Grisham said the metrics lacking include, but are not limited to, body condition of cattle pre- and post-grazing, mineral intake during grazing events, conception and abortion rates, fecal samples, whether supplemental feed is necessary during grazing events and pounds per acre during pre- and post-grazing.
"The goal of this study is to assess these and potentially other metrics for the beef herd in the area of critical conservation concern within the guidelines established by grazing management for lesser prairie-chickens by the Bureau of Land Management," Grisham said. "Students will be responsible for assessing the long-term feasibility of grazing for producers while simultaneously monitoring vegetation and lesser prairie-chicken response to prescribed grazing/burning. We also anticipate quantitatively comparing these metrics to previously published scientific literature on beef herd health and productivity in context of various operational methods across the southern High Plains."
Grisham said he hopes this research will facilitate a better understanding of how grazing plans tailored specifically to lesser prairie-chicken management differ from other operational standards not specifically designed around species and ecosystem management.
Also included in the group are: Carlos Villalobos, associate professor in the department of natural resources management; Darren Hudson, professor and Larry Combest chairman in the department of agricultural and applied economics; Randy Howard with the Roswell, N.M., Bureau of Land Management field office, and Kyle Dillard with the Center of Excellence for Hazardous Materials Management in Milnesand, N.M.