Date of this Version
Kennedy, S. M. "Managing for Vegetation Heterogeneity on Rangelands: An Exploration of Rancher Attitudes". PhD diss., University of Nebraska, 2018.
Grasslands provide food, fiber, and numerous ecosystem services to human populations as well as habitat for wildlife. They are also some of the most endangered ecosystems in the world because of their productive soils and open topography. This problem is exacerbated by the accelerating conversion of grassland to cropland and encroaching trees and shrubs. The quality of remaining grasslands will be of increasing importance because of the biodiversity and vital ecosystem services they provide. Heterogeneity is a term specific to rangeland science that is illustrative of grassland health. Grassland species require very specific and differing habitats and without the variation in vegetation (heterogeneity) the number of species that can thrive on the land is minimized, as are the interconnected ecosystem services. Because Great Plains grasslands are primarily managed by private landowners, the owners’ assistance in the maintenance and restoration of prairie ecosystems is essential. Thus, increasing heterogeneity on working rangelands may be a partial solution to preserving the vital ecosystem services provided by grasslands, balancing the needs of conservation with that of cattle production. This dissertation followed a three article format.
The first article explores what factors impact the grassland management decisions of progressive Nebraska ranchers, using an interpretative phenomenological approach. In the second article, a multiple case study analysis was used to explicate four ranches within the Great Plains region that manage specifically for habitat heterogeneity. In the third study, we tested a predictive model of factors influencing attitudes toward heterogeneous landscape-scale ranch management. An online survey was created and sent to ranchers within prescribed-burn and grazing groups in the Great Plains. Even though the survey targeted groups, which were predicted to be higher in heterogeneous attitudes, there was still a vast majority who are still following the “manage to the middle” paradigm. It appears these ranchers are unaware of the benefits of a heterogeneous landscape and the compatibility of its associated management techniques with their cattle production goals. To improve the adoption of techniques that promote heterogeneity, it is suggested that ranchers be shown how these practices benefit their cattle business alongside their landscape.
Advisor: Mark E. Burbach