WHEN severe droughts and overgrazing in the late 19th century brought livestock mortality, soil erosion and loss of native forage plants to the western U.S., the profession of rangeland science was born.
While the original intention was to create sustainable rangelands for livestock production, today's world has additional needs, according to an announcement from the publisher of the journal Rangeland Ecology & Management.
Rangeland science must progress to accommodate an increasing demand for ecosystem services in changing environments, the announcement added.
A special issue of Rangeland Ecology & Management commemorating the centennial of the Jornada Experimental Range looks at the past and future of rangeland science. The Jornada range was established in south-central New Mexico in 1912 to study how southwestern ecosystems could be sustainably managed for food and fiber production.
Fifty-six rangeland researchers from seven countries have contributed to this special journal issue, which seeks to define the direction for rangeland science and management in the coming century.
According to the announcement, 100 years ago, southwestern rangelands were considered suitable for only one purpose: raising livestock. The first task for range science was to classify rangelands according to appropriate livestock carrying capacities, the amount and type of forage available and climatic and other conditions that affect their value.
While these ideas have formed the basis of the questions modern rangeland scientists ask, today's profession has very different perspectives.
Past science and policy assumed that if livestock were removed, ecosystems would revert to their original condition, the announcement said. However, this has not proved to be the case, and the effects of events and uses from 100 years ago are still evident on the land today.
Additionally, given the high variability of rangeland systems in terms of rainfall, droughts and soil, scientists now recognize that a specific set of overarching principles for rangeland management cannot be universally applied, the announcement said.
Not only have the physical landscapes changed, but the social landscapes of stakeholders, policies and markets have also changed. Rangelands are no longer viewed only as a source of livestock products, the announcement said. Other services, including wildlife, water, biodiversity and renewable energy, are increasingly important to society.
What has become known as "resilience-based management" is now required to ensure the continued supply of different ecosystem services in an era of rapid and uncertain change, the journal publisher said.
In this special issue, the dominant themes of rangeland research are given new directions. Articles address global changes in climate and land use, international development, species loss and exotic introductions, the integration of new technologies and the role of educational institutions. Finally, these themes are condensed into a set of challenges now facing the rangeland science profession.
The full text of the article "Big Questions Emerging from a Century of Rangeland Science & Management" and other articles in this special issue of Rangeland Ecology & Management are available at www.srmjournals.org.