Can improved grazing management contribute to sequestering carbon in soils and improving delivery of ecosystem services and socio-ecological resilience in grazing ecosystems?
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Most rangelands in the USA have been degraded by past management. The provision of ecosystem services and livelihoods is entirely dependent on healthy ecosystem function that is directly related to the quantity of carbon contained in soils and the diversity and health of soil biota. Since virtually all organic carbon sequestered in soils is extracted from the atmosphere by photosynthetic organisms and converted to complex molecules by bacteria and fungi, in synergy with insects and animals, it has been proposed that restoring degraded grasslands is an effective, affordable and sustainable method for increasing soil organic carbon. Leading conservation ranchers using adaptive multi-paddock grazing (AMP) have effectively restored grasslands over millions of hectares on four continents, primarily in semi-arid and arid areas, since the 1970s. This has been achieved by managing livestock using multiple small paddocks to provide periods of short grazing and long recovery to mimic the predator-influenced herd migrations of animals like ancestral bison, elk and equids with which these ecosystems co-evolved. Prior peer-reviewed research on north central Texas ranches practicing AMP sequestered 30 tons of carbon more per hectare over 10 years compared to conventionally grazed ranches. Anecdotal evidence indicates similar carbon storage in different eco-regions but we need much more rigorously collected data. In this project we hope to discover whether or not AMP is a credible way to regenerate soils while creating healthy food, clean watersheds, resilient farms and rural communities via sequestering large amounts of carbon. We believe such research would be critically foundational in creating productive agricultural, environmental and economic development policy.