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  1. Abstract Background and aims

    Woody plant encroachment poses a significant threat to grasslands globally, and in the southcentral USA, juniper (Juniperus virginiana) is rapidly taking over large areas of grasslands. Despite ongoing research, the reasons behind the rapid encroachment of juniper species in Oklahoma remain elusive. We hypothesized that the interaction between juniper canopy, aeolian, and wet-deposition processes lead to a modification in trace-element inputs through stemflow and throughfall. This, in turn, plays a crucial role in determining the success of juniper encroachment.

    Methods

    We measured the influx of trace-elements in stemflow and throughfall beneath juniper canopies of different sizes, contrasting the results with those obtained under ambient precipitation.

    Results

    Our research unveiled a significant influence of the juniper canopy on trace-element inputs via stemflow and throughfall. Specifically, there was a significant increase in manganese, boron, and chlorine inputs, coupled with a decrease in copper inputs. Additionally, there was an increase in most cations and sulfate.

    Results

    Our results indicate that juniper encroachment alters the profile of trace-element, cation, and anion inputs beneath their canopies. Increased levels of manganese and reduction of copper inputs into the ecosystem may enhance the juniper growth, creating a positive feedback mechanism that could contribute to the success of juniper and other woody encroachers.

     
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  2. The increase of tree canopy cover due to woody plant encroachment and tree plantations modifies both carbon and water dynamics. The tradeoffs between ecosystem net primary productivity (NPP) and water use with increasing tree cover in different climate conditions, particularly under future climate scenarios, are not well understood. Within the climate transition zone of the southern Great Plains, USA, we used the Soil and Water Assessment Tool+ (SWAT+) to investigate the combined impacts of increasing tree cover and climate change on carbon and water dynamics in three watersheds representing semiarid, subhumid, and humid climates. Model simulations incorporated two land use modifications (Baseline: existing tree cover; Forest +: increasing evergreen tree cover), in conjunction with two climate change projections (the RCP45 and the RCP85), spanning two time periods (historic: 1991-2020; future: 2070-2099). With climate change, the subhumid and humid watersheds exhibited a greater increase in evapotranspiration (ET) and a corresponding reduction in runoff compared to the semi-arid watershed, while the semi-arid and subhumid watersheds encountered pronounced losses in water availability for streams (>200 mm/year) due to increasing tree cover and climate change. With every 1 % increase in tree cover, both NPP and water use efficiency were projected to increase in all three watersheds under both climate change scenarios, with the subhumid watershed demonstrating the largest increases (>0.16 Mg/ha/year and 170 %, respectively). Increasing tree cover within grasslands, either through woody plant expansion or afforestation, boosts ecosystem NPP, particularly in subhumid regions. Nevertheless, this comes with a notable decrease in water resources, a concern made worse by future climate change. While afforestation offers the potential for greater NPP, it also brings heightened water scarcity concerns, highlighting the importance of tailoring carbon sequestration strategies within specific regions to mitigate unintended repercussions on water availability. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 1, 2025
  3. Abstract

    Bacterial contamination of surface water is a public health concern. To quantify the efflux ofEscherichia coliinto ephemeral and intermittent streams and assess its numbers in relation to secondary body contact standards, we monitored runoff and measuredE. colinumbers from 10 experimental watersheds that differed in vegetation cover and cattle access in north‐central Oklahoma.Escherichia colinumbers were not significantly different among the watersheds, with one exception; the grazed prairie watershed (GP1) had greater numbers compared to one ungrazed prairie watershed (UP2). MedianE. colinumbers in runoff from ungrazed watersheds ranged from 260 to 1482 MPN/100 mL in comparison with grazed watersheds that ranged from 320 to 8878 MPN/100 mL. In the GP1 watershed, higher cattle stocking rates during pre‐ and post‐calving (February–May) resulted in significantly greater bacterial numbers and event loading compared to periods with lower stocking rates. The lack of significance among watersheds is likely due to the grazed sites being rotationally (and lightly) grazed, data variability, and wildlife contributions. To address wildlife sources, we used camera trap data to assess the usage in the watersheds; however, the average number of animals in a 24‐h period did not correlate with observed medianE. colinumbers. Because of its impacts onE. colinumbers in water, grazing management (stocking rate, rotation, and timing) should be considered for improving water quality in streams and reservoirs.

     
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2025
  4. Forest-grassland ecotones are a mosaic of grassland, savanna, and upland forest. As such, landowners may have opportunities to choose to manage their lands for multiple objectives. We estimated the economic returns from managing forest and rangeland in southeastern Oklahoma, USA to produce different combinations of timber, cattle forage, and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus Zimmermann) browse for a 40-year period. We further conducted a survey to understand landowner perceptions of obstacles to adopting active management that involve timber harvest and prescribed fire. The highest net return was obtained from the treatment with harvested timber that was burned every four years (uneven-aged woodland/forest) because it had the greatest gross return from a combination of timber (46%), cattle forage (42%), and deer browse (11%). The return from this treatment was greater than that for managed for timber only (closed-canopy forest) or prioritizing cattle and deer (savanna). Survey results suggested that landowners were aware of the benefits of active management but that the majority (66%) considered cost a major obstacle in the management of their forest or rangeland. In particular, women forestland owners and older landowners considered cost an obstacle. Our findings advocate integrated timber, cattle, and deer management as the best economic strategy within the forest-grassland ecotone and for targeted outreach and landowner education related to the benefits of active management. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2024
  5. White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) hunting is an important economic activity associated with the management of forests and rangelands in the USA, with over $12.9 billion dollars of related annual expenditures. Reducing tree cover through thinning and prescribed fire both have the potential to increase the quantity and quality of deer forage. We evaluated the long-term impacts of eight different combinations of fire return intervals and tree harvest on forage productivity and protein content of the forage. Based on management regime, study units ranged from savanna to closed-canopy forest. Aboveground net primary production (ANPP) of six functional groups (grass, panicum, forb, legume, woody, sedge) of understory vegetation was measured in October 2019 and 2020 using destructive sampling. Samples for foliar crude protein (CP) concentration were collected in spring, summer, and fall of 2020. Total understory ANPP ranged from 2.9 to 466.3 g m− 2 and was up to 566% greater in savanna systems maintained by frequent fire (return interval of three years or less) than in non-burned forest treatments. Annual burning resulted in ANPP dominated by herbaceous plants composed mostly of firetolerant grasses (e.g., Andropogon gerardii, Schizachyrium scoparium). Longer fire return intervals or no fire resulted in roughly equal ANPP from understory woody and herbaceous species. Crude protein concentrations were up to 45.7% greater in the woodland and forest units than in the savanna units for seven of the eleven species sampled. The greater CP in the forests was most noticeable in the summer when deer needs for quality forage are substantial. Increased protein concentrations of understory species in the forests, but greater ANPP in the savannas indicate that managing for a mix of savanna and woodland could be ideal for balancing forage quantity with increased forage protein. 
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  6. The land systems between the humid and arid zones around the globe are critical to agricultural production and are characterized by a strong integration of the land use and water dynamics. In the southern Great Plains (SGP) of the United States, lakes and farm ponds are essential components in the land systems, and they provide unique habitats for wildlife, and critical water resources for irrigation and municipal water supplies. The conversion of the marginal grasslands to switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) biofuel feedstock for energy production has been proposed in the region. However, we have limited experimental data to assess the impact of this potential land-use change on the surface runoff, which is the primary water source for surface impoundments. Here, we report the results from a paired experimental watershed study that compared the runoff and sediment responses that were related to the conversion of prairie to a low-input biomass production system. The results show no significant change in the relationship between the event-based runoff and the precipitation. There was a substantial increase in the sediment yield (328%) during the conversion phase that was associated with the switchgrass establishment (i.e., the site preparation, herbicide application, and switchgrass planting). Once the switchgrass was established, the sediment yield was 21% lower than the nonconverted watershed. Our site-specific observations suggest that switchgrass biofuel production systems will have a minimum impact on the existing land and water systems. It may potentially serve as an environmentally friendly and economically viable alternative land use for slowing woody encroachment on marginal lands in the SGP. 
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