Natural Resources, School of


First Advisor

Craig Allen

Second Advisor

Andrea Basche

Date of this Version



Bird, K. I. T. (2022). Landscape change, scale, and human response to change in the Great Plains. [Master's thesis, University of Nebraska-Lincoln]. UNL Digital Commons.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Science, Major: Natural Resource Sciences, Under the Supervision of Professors Craig R. Allen and Andrea Basche. Lincoln, Nebraska: December, 2022.

Copyright © 2022 Kate Bird


Great Plains landscapes are undergoing changes at multiple spatial and temporal scales due to processes ranging from woody encroachment to climate change. These changes may fundamentally alter the agroecosystems of the Great Plains such that the provisioning of ecosystem services including biodiversity and livestock production is affected. Improving our understanding of the effects of landscape change at multiple scales and how humans perceive and respond to these changes is important for facilitating research and management that enhances the resilience of these agroecosystems. As such, I first applied discontinuity theory and graph theory to evaluate the functional connectivity of the Central Platte River Valley (CPRV) for mammal species interacting with the landscape at multiple scales. I found that the CPRV was highly connected for mammal species at larger scales and less connected for those at smaller scales. I also found limited overlap in the patches of habitat most important for connectivity for mammals interacting with the landscape at smaller and larger scales. These results suggest that a multiscale approach to management in the CPRV will be most beneficial in supporting diverse species communities. Second, I interviewed ranchers in the Great Plains states of Nebraska and Colorado in order to examine their perceptions of landscape change and potential coping strategies. The ranchers interviewed identified numerous changes affecting Great Plains landscapes ranging from shifting land ownership to woody encroachment, and they generally expressed a willingness to learn and adopt new practices. This willingness to adopt new practices, in combination with the management challenges and uncertainties presented by landscape change, indicates a need and opportunity for partnership between governmental and nonprofit entities and the ranching community in order to develop coping strategies. Cumulatively, by examining landscape change and the role of scale and human response to change, we gain insight into potential approaches to research and management in changing Great Plains agroecosystems, which is valuable in maintaining and building the resilience of these systems.

Advisors: Craig Allen, Andrea Basche