Shrubs are the dominant form of plant life on vast areas of North America, as well as on other continents. Shrub dominance is a consequence of major climatic and geologic patterns. Approximately 548,000 square miles (142 million hectares) of the western United States are characterized by shrubland dominance. Sizable additional areas classified as forests, woodlands, grasslands, or riparian corridors include an important shrub component. Despite the large size of these shrub-dominated ecosystems, they are often poorly understood and frequently abused as a natural resource. Research is needed to better understand and manage these plant communities and their associated biota.
The Provo Shrub Sciences Lab is located in Provo, Utah near the Brigham Young University campus. As part of the Grassland, Shrubland and Desert Ecosystems Program in the Rocky Mountain Research Station, scientists conduct original research and collaborate with researchers and managers from private and public universities and state, federal, and foreign agencies on aspects of shrub and shrubland biology, ecology, and management. Research focus areas are inter-related and address challenges to shrubland conservation and management under the over-arching realities of a changing world.
Experimental RangesThe lab manages two experimental ranges:
- Desert Experimental Range, located in and near Pine Valley, Millard County, Utah, and representative of salt-desert shrub and shrub-grass ecosystems found in the cold deserts of the Great Basin and Colorado Plateaus of western North America.
- Great Basin Experimental Range, located on the west face of the Wasatch Plateau wholly within the Sanpete Ranger District of the Manti-LaSal National Forest.
Genetics and genomics: Genetic approaches are used to address biological and ecological questions important to the management and sustainability of wildland ecosystems. These questions include understanding within species adaptation to the environment, genetic relationships between and within plant species, and the interactions of plants and fungi.
Natural and human-caused fire regimes: Research characterizes past and present variation in fire patterns at multiple spatial scales and evaluates the role of fire in shaping shrublands and associated grasslands, woodlands and forests in the Interior West.
Invasive species: Research addresses the genetics and ecology of the introduced invasive annual grass, cheatgrass, and evaluates naturally-occurring fungal pathogens as biocontrol agents. Work includes trials to test field applications of pathogens to assess the practical application of control strategies.
Plant Materials Development: Plant selection work includes the collection and testing of seed sources for native forbs, grasses, and shrubs for use in the restoration of degraded wildlands with a primary focus on the Great Basin. Research includes investigations of variation in seed germination requirements within and among species, development of appropriate cultural practices for agronomic seed production, and evaluation of equipment and strategies for wildland plantings.
Montane and cold-desert rangeland stability: Long-term data sets from the Great Basin and Desert Experimental Ranges are used to assess impacts of livestock grazing and climate variability on successional processes of diverse, non-forested landscapes.