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Climate Change - Defoliation Interactions in Canadian Rangelands

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Canada's Rangelands

Rangelands support the majority of Canada's 4 million head of cattle. Unfortunately, of the 22 million hectares of land dedicated to range and forage production, less than half is rated as being in "good" condition. This is primarily due to overgrazing.

Native range stores more carbon than pasture, and improving range condition should increase carbon storage. As governments at all levels are currently examining methods of mitigating carbon emissions, maintaining "good"-condition rangelands may prove to be an important component of any Canadian climate change strategy.

Kinsella Hillside

Climate Change

While rangelands may prove to be an important tool in battling climate change, climate change may drastically affect rangeland function. Increased warming and drought frequency will reduce forage production and alter the distribution and size of plant roots. As up to 92% of plant biomass in rangeland systems is belowground, this may alter the sustainability of rangelands as well as their ability to sequester carbon. We unfortunately only have a limited understanding of belowground rangeland dynamics, so the potential effects of climate change on rangelands remain unclear.

GAP Rainout Shelters

The Project

In order to better understand the potential effects of climate change on rangelands, we are conducting a large, inter-disciplinary, inter-provincial study to examine how climate change and 'grazing' (defoliation) interact to affect rangeland systems. This requires an understanding of the mechanisms driving belowground processes, so we will be examining biomass production, root demography, C and N cycling, microbial functioning, and the soil invertebrate community. Identifying the links between these components will hopefully allow us to determine where climate change and land-use decisions interact, and develop management strategies to mitigate any negative effects of climate change.

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