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Grassland, Shrubland and Desert Ecosystems

A wildfire burning through a Wyoming big sagebrush community with the invasive annual grass, cheatgrass, in the understory.  These types of communities have low resilience or recovery potential (photo by Doug Shinneman)

Resilience science - key to effective restoration of imperiled sagebrush ecosystems

Conservation efforts are underway across the western U.S. to reduce threats to Greater Sage-grouse and the sagebrush ecosystems on which they depend.
Greater sage-grouse

Research on resilience of sagebrush ecosystems improves sage-grouse habitat

Plant genetics reveals critical steps in restoration. This research focuses on ecological genetics of sagebrush, which is under threat principally from wildfire and exotic weed encroachment.

A new look at the race for survival: cheatgrass biocontrol with “black fingers of death”

Cheatgrass is one of the most destructive plant invaders in the West with significant economic and ecological impacts on rangelands and agricultural lands. The seed pathogen "black fingers of death" is a promising tool under consideration for biocontrol of cheatgrass.

Impacts of invasive trees on nesting birds in riparian areas

Dependency of some sensitive bird species on invasive tree species for nesting raises concern about removing these exotic trees for wildfire control (photo compliments of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).
capturing floral scents

Pollinators are affected by drought stress

We examined how drought, which is predicted to increase in the Western United States due to climate change, affected floral odors and pollinator attraction in four plant species in Montana.

The Grassland, Shrubland, and Desert Ecosystems (GSD) program investigates the biology, use, management, and restoration of grasses and shrublands. Scientists, professional technicians, and support staff with the GSD Program develop and deliver scientific knowledge, technology and tools that will enable people to sustain and restore grasslands, shrublands, and deserts under increasing threats from expanding human-related uses, invasive species, changing disturbance patterns, and climate changes.

The National Grassland Council has prepared an audiovisual presentation about the history and value of our National Grasslands. GSD Research Ecologist Jackie Ott, Rapid City and member of the National Grassland Council, helped to prepare the presentation which she narrates. The presentation takes 10 minutes and is a fascinating account of the homesteading period, 1930’s Dust Bowl, formation of the national grasslands, and their current multiple uses and contributions to the national economy. Nearly all of the 21 National Grasslands are within the territory covered by the Rocky Mountain Research Station, making research on the national grasslands an important RMRS niche.  RMRS researchers including Jackie Ott, Research Ecologist Paulette Ford, Albuquerque, Research Ecologist Brice Hanberry, Rapid City, and Research Biologist Francis Kilkenny, Boise and members of his lab, as well as wildlife biologist Brian Dickerson, Rapid City and Biological Technician David Hawksworth, Albuquerque, conduct research on fire, invasive species, plant communities, plant genetics and wildlife on national grasslands. To view the audiovisual presentation, click here: America's Grasslands 

In 2001 GSD and the Bureau of Land Management initiated the multi-state Great Basin Native Plant Project. Now with over 25 collaborators, the project continues to improve the availability of native plant materials and to provide the knowledge and technology required for their use in restoring diverse native plant communities across the Great Basin.

Members of the GSD Program are located at seven laboratories in six states in the intermountain West (Provo, UT and Reno, NV), Rocky Mountains (Boise and Moscow, ID), northern Great Plains (Bozeman, MT and Rapid City, SD), and American Southwest (Albuquerque, NM).

Learn more about the GSD Program in their research updates: