Deciphering rangeland transformation-complex dynamics obscure interpretations of woody plant encroachment Academic Article uri icon


  • 2016, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. Context: Woody plant encroachmentthe conversion of grasslands to woodlandsis among the greatest challenges faced by rangelands worldwide. Yet this phenomenon is poorly understood, and complex land use dynamics make interpreting the timing and extent of land cover changes a global challenge. Objectives: For many regions, the true degree and rate of historical change in woody cover and cropland remain unknown. We quantify these processes and explore the effects of prior cultivation on woody plant distribution. Methods: In the Lampasas Cut Plain, USA, we measured rangeland transformation using digital classification of aerial imagery 19372012. Our study is the first to use data of such high spatial and temporal resolution to address this question at this scale. We also provide some of the first documentation of dramatic regional cropland abandonment. Results: Although total woody cover remained almost unchanged (1937: 28%, 2012: 27%), woody cover underwent a major redistribution across the landscape. Formerly open areas attained much greater levels of woody cover, and previously wooded areas lost woody cover. As cropland area declined by 78%, woody plants invaded former croplands more slowly than the rangeland portions of the area (0.1% year1 vs. 0.3% year1, respectively). Conclusions: These findings conflict with widely held assumptions and suggest that woody plant encroachment is more nuanced than often recognized. Multiple dynamics and past conditions interact in complex ways to produce landscape change. Because perceptions of encroachment determine how we respond to this challenge, great care should be taken in interpreting observed woody plant encroachment of the worlds rangelands.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 1.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Berg, M. D., Wilcox, B. P., Angerer, J. P., Rhodes, E. C., & Fox, W. E.

citation count

  • 6

complete list of authors

  • Berg, Matthew D||Wilcox, Bradford P||Angerer, Jay P||Rhodes, Edward C||Fox, William E

publication date

  • December 2016