Friday, April 12, 2024
HomeRegional NewsSDSU Extension, Partners Expanding Rangeland Plant Research

SDSU Extension, Partners Expanding Rangeland Plant Research

BROOKINGS, S.D. – South Dakota State University Extension is partnering with state and national conservation groups to learn more about some of the lesser-known rangeland plants.

SDSU Extension, the South Dakota Grassland Coalition, The Nature Conservancy, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and others will research the nutritional value and mineral content of various native forb species in South Dakota.

Kaylee Wheeler, SDSU Extension Range Field Specialist and project manager, said the project will provide valuable information for groups like landowners, livestock producers, landscapers and gardeners, while contributing to ongoing research efforts into rangelands and offering potential for state-wide improvements in wildlife and pollinator habitats, diversity and soil health.

Rangelands are home to thousands of species of grasses, forbs, shrubs, insects, wildlife and livestock. Diversity promotes strong microbial activity and healthy soils, and provides sustenance for the essential work of pollinators and carbon capture.

“The value that plant diversity brings to the landscape is underrepresented and unclear for grazing livestock production, wildlife habitats and public interest,” said Wheeler. “It is important to expand our understanding of the role that native forbs have in our ecosystems.”

One of the project’s benefits will be a better understanding of grazing livestock nutrition. Wheeler said livestock producers are interested in targeted species grazing and personalized mineral and supplement programs, but there is not enough data on what nutritional value non-grass rangeland plants provide.

Forbs are a type of flowering plant, like goldenrod or prairie clover, prevalent in rangelands. Wheeler said many people remove forbs from pastures via chemical or mechanical control because they view forbs as competition against grass or as noxious weeds that can be toxic to animals. This project can provide more information for land managers and producers, potentially reducing the need for spraying.

“We spend a lot of time, energy and money trying to match our pastures to what we think an animal will eat based on what we can see. But the animals are on the land 24 hours a day and often for six to 12 months a year,” said Pete Bauman, SDSU Natural Resources and Wildlife Field Specialist. “These plants have tremendous potential in livestock and wildlife diets, and this project will provide a great deal of understanding in grazing and wildlife management.”

The information may also help future SDSU research to expand on livestock foraging behavior and in-depth interactions between animals, plants, soils and minerals. Beyond the scope of agriculture and natural resources, there is strong public interest in promoting pollinator populations by incorporating native forbs in personal gardens and landscaping.

Building on broader regional efforts by the Xerces Society, North Dakota State University and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the project will also contribute to educational materials for partnership efforts like the South Dakota Grassland Coalition Grazing Schools, NRCS range tools, and educational programs by SDSU Extension; The Nature Conservancy; South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks; and Audubon Great Plains.

Technicians are being hired for the project. To apply, or for general project information, contact Kaylee Wheeler, SDSU Extension Range Field Specialist, at or 605-773-8131.

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