Monitoring of Grassland, Shrubland, and Savanna Ecosystems

prepared by Grant Hamilton


Developed by the USDA Agricultural Resource Service (ARS) Jornada Experimental Range, the Monitoring Manual for Grassland, Shrubland and Savanna Ecosystems is intended to provide guidance for rangeland managers following monitoring protocols established by the Bureau of Land Management’s Assessment, Inventory and Monitoring (AIM) Strategy or Natural Resources Conservation Service’s National Resources Inventory (NRI) for non-federal rangelands.

Core Monitoring Methods

Core methods generate indicators which represent the minimum information necessary to describe three key ecosystem attributes: soil and site stability, watershed function, and biotic integrity. For this reason, the ARS recommends all public land managers follow the core monitoring protocols without modification. Detailed descriptions of the core methods can be found in Volume I of the Monitoring Manual. Core monitoring methods consist of the following procedures:

Core Method Indicators Assessed
Line-point intercept with plot-level species inventory • Bare ground
• Susceptibility to wind and water erosion
• Non-native invasive plant species
• Non-native invasive plant species
• Plant species of management concern
Vegetation height • Vegetation height
Canopy Gap intercept • Proportion of soil surface in large intercanopy gaps
Soil stability • Soil aggregate stability
Multiple core methods Integrated/modeled indicators:
• Susceptibility to wind and water erosion
• Wildlife habitat structure

Supplemental Monitoring Methods

Supplemental methods may be included when the core methods are insufficient to inform a particular management objective. These additional methods are not intended to replace the core methods. Instead they provide additional information necessary to answer local management questions. Supplemental methods in conjunction with the core methods allow these data to be used for multiple management objectives by providing basic ecosystem attribute information while also meeting local monitoring needs. Detailed descriptions of the supplemental methods can be found in Volume II of the Monitoring Manual.

Supplemental Method Indicators Assessed
Compaction test • Soil compaction
Infiltration • Soil infiltration capacity
Plant production • Total annual production
Species richness (modified Whitaker method) • Biodiversity
Plant density • Non-native invasive plant species
• Plant density
• Plant species of management concern
Vegetation structure • Visual obstruction
Tree density • Structure diversity
• Woody biomass
Riparian vegetation • Riparian vegetation composition
Channel/gully profiles • Channel shape


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