Natural Resources, School of


First Advisor

Craig R. Allen

Second Advisor

David A. Wedin

Date of this Version


Document Type



A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Natural Resources (Applied Ecology), Under the Supervision of Professors Craig R. Allen and David A. Wedin. Lincoln, Nebraska: August, 2017

Copyright (c) 2017 Hannah E. Birge


Humans seek to improve their wellbeing by altering ecological processes to maximize the output of specific ecosystem services, which often leave the system vulnerable to unintended and undesirable side effects. Ecosystem services emerge from complex interactions among ecological structures and processes occurring at multiple scales. The degree to which an ecosystem maintains a predictable range of structures and processes in the face of disturbance can be described as its resilience. The 1930s Dust Bowl of the North American Great Plains is an example of a system reconfiguration and loss of resilience that was ultimately driven by human optimization for a single ecosystem service, and proximately triggered by an environmental disturbance. In part to avoid another social-ecological catastrophe, in 1985 Congress approved a 12 million ha set aside program known as The Conservation Reserve Program. In 2017, The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) remains the largest soil conservation initiative in U.S. history in terms of acres enrolled, and provides a myriad of ecosystem services. However, the reliable production of these services is uncertain in the face of enrollment variability, potentially conflicting management objectives, and global change. Additionally, since its inception CRP objectives have expanded beyond soil conservation to include pollinator conservation and game habitat –the establishment of which often makes use of soil destructive practices like disk tillage. The goal of this work was to uncover whether management intended to achieve multiple, simultaneously objectives for the CRP may ultimately lead to non-linear, unwanted outcomes for CRP grassland ecosystems in the North Central Great Plains.