Islands of fertility in the sagebrush sea
Feb04

Islands of fertility in the sagebrush sea

Sagebrush ecosystem recovery appears to be hobbled by loss of soil complexity when topsoil is remixed at oil and gas development sites, losing the “islands of fertility” associated with mature shrubs. Related news stories: “Sage Advice: Couple’s research plants seeds for reclamation of sagebrush.” Dennis Webb. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, Monday, February 2, 2015. “State should improve reclamation process.” Editorial. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, Wednesday, February 4, 2015. In big sagebrush country, re-establishing the ecosystem’s namesake shrub may jump-start the recovery process more successfully after oil and gas development than sowing grass-dominated reclamation seed mixes typically used to quickly re-vegetate bare soil on well pads, report two Colorado scientists in the January 2015 issue of Ecological Applications, released today. Big sagebrush is often conspicuously absent at restoration sites decades after disturbance. Historically, grasses have dominated the vegetation recovery following development, offering limited diversity and poor quality habitat for the 350 wildlife species harbored by what was once the most widespread ecosystem in the western United States. “Successful restoration is more than establishing vegetation. To restore wildlife habitat so that it is self-renewing, it is critical that soils are returned to a healthy status as quickly as possible,” said the study’s lead scientist, Tamera Minnick, Professor of Environmental Science at Colorado Mesa University. The authors sampled two undisturbed reference sites and eight reclaimed or abandoned natural gas well pads in Rio Blanco County, Colorado. They found that none of the oil and gas well pads included in the study had returned to a reference, or pre-drilling, condition, even those that had had 20 to 50 years to recover. When a well pad is built, the topsoil and lower soil layers are removed and stored in piles in order to create a level work surface for drilling wells. Today’s well pads, often consisting of dozens of wells per pad, may require removing soil from an area of 3-10 acres. When drilling is completed, current reclamation standards require oil and gas companies to replace the soil and reestablish plants. However, the stored soils are now thoroughly mixed or homogenized and have lost the patchy pattern of soil nutrients that existed before the well pad was built. “Sagebrush modifies its habitat to create patchy soils that make the habitat more resilient and even better for supporting sagebrush and all the other plants and animals that depend upon this important ecosystem,” said Richard Alward, Principal Ecologist with Aridlands Natural Resource Consulting, and the study’s coauthor. Other researchers have documented that sagebrush shrubs trap decaying organic matter, moisture, and nutrients in the soil beneath  their canopies, creating “islands of fertility” in sagebrush habitat, which Minnick and Alward...

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Ecological Applications mandates data sharing
Feb07

Ecological Applications mandates data sharing

From 2014 onward, the editors of ESA’s journal Ecological Applications will require authors to make their data publicly available. Authors must deposit data that they discuss in the results of their research reports in a permanent, publicly accessible data archive or repository before publication of the manuscript.

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