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Data from: Thinking Like a Grassland: Challenges and Opportunities for Biodiversity Conservation in the Great Plains of North America

dataset
posted on 2024-02-15, 17:59 authored by David J. Augustine, Ana Davidson, Kristin Dickinson, Bill Van Pelt

Conservation planning in the Great Plains often depends on understanding the degree of fragmentation of the various types of grasslands and savannas that historically occurred in this region. To define ecological subregions of the Great Plains, we used a revised version of Kuchler’s (1964) map of the potential natural vegetation of the United States. The map was digitized from the 1979 physiographic regions map produced by the Bureau of Land Management, which added 10 physiognomic types. All analyses are based on data sources specific to the United States; hence, we only analyze the portion of the Great Plains occurring in the United States.We sought to quantify the current amount of rangeland in the US Great Plains converted due to 1) woody plant encroachment; 2) urban, exurban, and other forms of development (e.g., energy infrastructure); and 3) cultivation of cropland. At the time of this analysis, the most contemporary measure of land cover across the United States was the 2011 NLCD (Homer et al. 2015). One limitation of the NLCD is that some grasslands with high rates of productivity, such as herbaceous wetlands or grasslands along riparian zones, are misclassified as cropland. A second limitation is the inability to capture cropland conversion occurring after 2011 (Lark et al. 2015). Beginning in 2009 (and retroactively for 2008), the US Department of Agriculture - NASS has annually produced a Cropland Data Layer (CDL) for the United States from satellite imagery, which maps individual crop types at a 30-m spatial resolution. We used the annual CDLs from 2011 to 2017 to map the distribution of cropland in the Great Plains. We merged this map with the 2011 NLCD to evaluate the degree of fragmentation of grasslands and savannas in the Great Plains as a result of conversion to urban land, cropland, or woodland. We produced two maps of fragmentation (best case and worst case scenarios) that quantify this fragmentation at a 30 x 30 m pixel resolution across the US Great Plains, and make them available for download here.

Resources in this dataset:

  • Resource title: Data Dictionary for Figure 2 derived land cover of the US portion of the North American Great Plains File name: Figure2_Key for landcover classes.csv

  • Resource title: Figure 1. Potential natural vegetation of US portion of the North American Great Plains, adapted from Kuchler (1964). File name: Figure1_Kuchler_GPRangelands.zip Resource description: Extracted grassland, shrubland, savanna, and forest communities in the US Great Plains from the revised Kuchler natural vegetation map

  • Resource title: Figure 2. Derived land cover of the US portion of the North American Great Plains. File name: Figure2_Key for landcover classes.zip Resource description: The fNLCD-CDL product estimates that 43.7% of the Great Plains still consists of grasslands and shrublands, with the remainder consisting of 40.6% cropland, 4.4% forests, 3.0% UGC, 3.0% developed open space, 2.9% improved pasture or hay fields, 1.2% developed land, 1.0% water, and 0.2% barren land, with important regional and subregional variation in the extent of rangeland loss to cropland, forests, and developed land.

  • Resource title: Figure 3. Variation in the degree of fragmentation of Great Plains measured in terms of distance to cropland, forest, or developed lands. File name: Figure3_bestcase_disttofrag.zip Resource description: This map depicts a “best case” scenario in which 1) croplands are mapped based only on the US Department of AgricultureNational Agricultural Statistics Service Cropland Data Layers (2011e2017), 2) all grass-dominated cover types including hay fields and improved pasture are considered rangelands, and 3) developed open space (as defined by the National Land Cover Database) are assumed to not be a fragmenting land cover type.

  • Resource title: Figure 4. Variation in the degree of fragmentation of Great Plains measured in terms of distances to cropland, forest, or developed lands. File name: Figure4_worstcase_disttofrag.zip Resource description: This map depicts a ‘worst case’ scenario in which 1) croplands are mapped based on the US Department of AgricultureNational Agricultural Statistics Service Cropland Data Layers (2011e2017) and the 2011 National Land Cover Database (NLCD), 2) hay fields and improved pasture are not included as rangelands, and 3) developed open space (as defined by NLCD) is included as a fragmenting land cover type.

Funding

USDA-ARS: 3012-21610-003-00-D

History

Data contact name

Augustine, David

Data contact email

David.Augustine@usda.gov

Publisher

Ag Data Commons

Intended use

Here, we quantified contemporary patterns of rangeland patch size and fragmentation across all the major historic grassland, shrubland, and savanna vegetation types in the US portion of the Great Plains (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rama.2019.09.001). Our maps and analyses identify significant opportunities for landscape-scale conservation and restoration in the western half of the Great Plains. These maps can also be used to support analyses of habitat fragmentation for flora and fauna of the Great Plains.

Use limitations

See the manuscript (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rama.2019.09.001) for caveats concerning the quality of the data inputs, and the time frame represented.

Temporal Extent Start Date

2021-09-01

Theme

  • Not specified

Geographic Coverage

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Geographic location - description

The central grasslands of North America emerged from the last glacial period ~12 000 yr ago (Walker et al. 2009) as glaciers that covered modern-day Canada and portions of the northern United States retreated and substantial shifts in climatic conditions began to shape the flora and fauna of the region. Conservation of the Great Plains is focused on flora, fauna, and associated disturbance regimes that have been influenced by European settlement as well as climate change. The Great Plains encompass a temperature gradient extending across nearly 3 000 km from north to south and a precipitation gradient extending nearly 1 500 km from northwest to southeast (Lauenroth et al. 1999). In any given location, precipitation and temperature fluctuate dramatically over temporal scales from days to seasons, years, and decades (Knapp and Smith 2001; Chen et al. 2018). This large geographic area and extreme temporal variability combined with the limited vertical structure of the vegetation create a challenging environment shaping the regions’ fauna over ecological and evolutionary time scales. As a result, many species depend on the capacity for large-scale movements (over hundreds to thousands of kilometers) to track resources and avoid inclement weather. Today, extensive portions of the US Great Plains have been converted into some of the most productive croplands in the world. Conversion of native grassland to cropland combined with additional losses to woody plant encroachment, urban expansion, and energy extraction are widely recognized as major challenges for grassland species conservation (Samson et al. 2004; Williams et al. 2011).

ISO Topic Category

  • biota
  • environment

Ag Data Commons Group

  • Central Plains Experimental Range
  • Long-Term Agroecosystem Research

National Agricultural Library Thesaurus terms

grasslands; biodiversity conservation; Great Plains region; savannas; ecological zones; land management; rangelands; cropland; land cover; remote sensing; Conservation Reserve Program; wildfires; habitat fragmentation; habitat connectivity; flora; fauna

OMB Bureau Code

  • 005:18 - Agricultural Research Service

OMB Program Code

  • 005:040 - National Research

ARS National Program Number

  • 215

Pending citation

  • No

Public Access Level

  • Public

Preferred dataset citation

Augustine, David J.; Davidson, Ana; Dickinson, Kristin; Van Pelt, Bill (2023). Data from: Thinking Like a Grassland: Challenges and Opportunities for Biodiversity Conservation in the Great Plains of North America. Ag Data Commons. https://doi.org/10.15482/USDA.ADC/1529603