SGS Hosts 7th Symposium

Network News Spring 2005, Vol. 18 No. 1
Site News

The 7th Shortgrass Steppe (SGS) LTER Symposium was held January 14, 2005, with contributions from the USDA Forest Service (USFS), Pawnee National Grassland, and Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory.

Over 150 people attended, representing twenty-five agencies, universities, and non-governmental organizations, ranging from local high school students and farm and livestock producers to U.S. legislators. Participants focused on management, research, and conservation. Presenters from Colorado State University (CSU) and the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Rangeland Resources Research Unit, explored issues of grazing, drought, weeds and invasive species, faunal diversity, and prairie dogs. Twenty-three posters were presented on research studies, conservation, land management, information management, education, and outreach.

Justin Derner (ARS) presented a rich history of land use and research, focusing on cattle grazing management practices employed by the Crow Valley Livestock Cooperative. This Cooperative is the oldest grazing association in the U.S. and works closely with researchers and land managers. Justin identified suburban development as having potentially the greatest impact on the culture, lifestyle, habitat, and biodiversity of the SGS. He stressed the importance of considering social sciences in planning SGS research, management, and conservation activities, as well as the need for all stakeholders to work together on important issues.

Nolan Doesken (CSU) discussed the current statewide drought, issues of climate change, and the uncertainty that exists in forecasting weather. He described the climate of the SGS and summarized average annual precipitation, monthly temperatures, and the relationship between precipitation and evaporation. Noting that a small number of isolated events contribute greatly to annual precipitation in the area, creating a need for more rain gauges across the landscape, Nolan distributed rain gauges to students from Future Farmers of America to install in Grover, Colorado for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (

Dana Blumenthal (ARS) discussed the challenges in applying generalizations to the invasion of a landscape by exotic species. After explaining theories of invasion and preliminary results of studies conducted in the SGS and mixed grass prairie, Dana led a group discussion on environmental changes in the SGS that may create favorable conditions and provide resources for invasive species. In turn, SGS-LTER researchers discussed their resource enrichment studies, explaining that currently grazed pastures in the SGS have not been invaded significantly by exotic species.

CSU's Mike Antolin presented research on interactions between prairie dogs, the plague, and the diversity of fauna in prairie dog towns. He explained the introduction of plague in Black-tailed prairie dog populations has affected the structure of dog towns, and that extinctions caused by plague and conditions for re-colonization may be tied to temperature, moisture, physical interactions with infected wildlife, and the persistence of plague in the environment.

To wind up, Alan Knapp (CSU) gave a synthesis of all the ideas presented during the day. He reviewed the challenges facing SGS researchers, managers, and producers; gave a history of LTER research at local, regional, and international scales; and discussed the need for forecasting services for ecosystems. He observed that while LTER research is being applied to conservation and management planning, it is challenged still by the need for ecosystem predictions. LTER research addresses patterns of invasion, responses of ecosystems to variations in weather patterns, and potential influences of climate change, which are current global questions for managers, policy makers, and scientists. But while we may not be very successful at making accurate predictions, he said, we do know enough from our research under different ecosystem conditions to build scenarios and understand the potential consequences of certain actions. In the long term, he concluded, increases in human population and the ensuing impact on the natural world will present new challenges to our understanding of ecosystems and necessitate incorporating human dimensions into research, management, and conservation activities.

More information can be found at

Nicole Kaplan, Sallie Sprague, Caroline Yonker and Judy Hendryx, SGS LTER

"Home on The SGS"

Entertainment during lunch at the 7th Annual SGS Symposium was provided by some of our own staff, PIs, and collaborators, who sang our own SGS lyrics to the tune of good old "Home on the Range":

Verse1 (Caroline Yonker & Bob Flynn)

Oh, give me a home where the bovine do roam,
Where the pronghorn and prairie dogs play
Where the air is so pure, save the scent of manure
With treasures not found on eBay.

Chorus (all)

Home, home on the range (the experimental range)
Where hard working friends also play
Publications are found and good people abound
And cattle gain weight everyday

Verse 2 (Caroline Yonker)

Oh give me a creek, like the waters so meek
In the Owl, the Cow, the Horsetail
‘Cause the rain is so fickle, they’re ‘oft just a trickle
The floodplain so sandy and pale.

Verse 3 (Caroline Yonker)

Oh, I love the hills, rock outcrops and fills,
Their colors so subtle and brown.
And I love the buttes, the soil ‘neath my boots
A beauty of local renown.

Verse 4 (Nicole Kaplan)

Oh, give me a steppe we can study in depth
Where we count and clip grass all the day
Where habitat is key, for you and for me
But all stays below ground ’til May.

Verse 5 (Nicole Kaplan & Bob Flynn)

Oh! A research site, where the sun’s always bright
That tans your skin oh so well
And when the sun goes down, we count rabbits all around
Then retire to the Pawnee Motel.

Verse 6 (Judy Hendryx)
At home in the lab, it’s not really so bad
As the samples we carefully weigh
Where the students do toil over the prairie soil
And the seeds we do count many days.

Verse 7 (Judy Hendryx)

Oh, the plants we do grind, into powder so fine
Into vials we place them with care
Then we analyze them on the old C-H-N
And burn them off into thin air!

Verse 8 (Bob Flynn)

This landscape I assess, with my personal GPS
My research this data doth foster
I get perfect stats, and fine-looking maps
All for my PowerPoint poster