Applying Ecological Site Concepts and State-and-Transition Models to a Grazed Riparian Rangeland

TitleApplying Ecological Site Concepts and State-and-Transition Models to a Grazed Riparian Rangeland
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsRatcliff F, Bartolome J, Macaulay L, Spiegal S.
JournalEcology and Evolution
Date Published04/2018
ARIS Log Number348240
KeywordsCART analysis, ecological site descriptions, grazing management, hierarchical cluster analysis, riparian classification

Ecological site and state-and-transition models are useful tools for generating and testing hypotheses about drivers of vegetation composition in non-equilibrium systems, and have been widely implemented on rangelands. Compared to upland areas, little attention has been given to developing ecological site concepts for rangeland riparian areas, and additional environmental criteria may be necessary to classify riparian ecological sites. Between 2013 and 2016, fifteen study reaches on five creeks were studied at Tejon Ranch in southern California. Data were collected to describe the relationship between riparian vegetation composition and environmental variables, and to explore the utility of ecological site and state-and-transition models for describing vegetation communities and for creating hypotheses about drivers of vegetation change. Hierarchical cluster analysis was used to classify the environmental and vegetation data (15 stream reaches * 4 years) into two ecological sites and eight community phases that comprised three vegetation states. Classification and regression tree (CART) analysis was used to determine the influence of abiotic site variables on vegetation clusters. Channel slope explained the greatest amount of variation in vegetation clusters; however, soil texture, geology, watershed size, and elevation were also selected as important predictors of vegetation composition. The classification tree built with this limited set of abiotic predictor variables explained 90% of the observed vegetation clusters. Abiotic variables explained almost all of the observed riparian vegetation dynamics, suggesting that non-equilibrium models would be well-suited for understanding and predicting change in this highly variable system. Indeed, ecological site and state-and-transition models provided a robust framework for describing riparian vegetation states and generating testable hypotheses about vegetation dynamics and their relationship to environmental and management variables. These findings support continued development of riparian ecological site concepts and state-and-transition models to aid decision making for conservation and management of rangeland riparian areas.