15-Yr Biomass Production in Semiarid Nebraska Sandhills Grasslands: Part 1—Plant Functional Group Analysis

Biquan Zhao, Mitchell B. Stephenson, Tala Awada, Jerry D. Volesky, Brian Wardlow, Yuzhen Zhou, Yeyin Shi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Semiarid grasslands of the Nebraska Sandhills provide critical ecosystem services and are an important forage resource for the local cattle industry. Over the past decades, warming and climate-related extremes have affected grassland production worldwide, which promotes the initiation of numerous grassland monitoring projects. Despite this, production trends for plant functional groups in the Sandhills regions in recent years have remained unknown. In this study, we analyzed plant biomass production of the Sandhills grasslands with a dataset collected over 15 yr from 2007 to 2021. Ungrazed total biomass and biomass of individual plant functional groups were assessed in grazing exclosures twice a year, in mid-June (for early season) and mid-August (for late season). This first paper reports our findings on total biomass and compositional changes of the three major plant functional groups, as well as trends in precipitation and temperature during the study period. A significant increasing trend (P < 0.05) was observed in temperature over time during the early season (April to mid-June), with a weak monotonic increasing trend (P = 0.07) during the full season (April to mid-August), whereas no significant pattern was reported for precipitation during the study, although it displayed complex within- and across-season patterns. The proportion of C3-grass biomass in total biomass increased (P < 0.05), while the proportion of C4-grass biomass decreased (P < 0.01). We did not observe any significant trends for forbs; however, the drought of 2012 resulted in up to a fivefold increase in the proportion of forb biomass the following year. These findings enhance our understanding of current patterns in grassland production and contribute to regional evidence on the response of plant functional groups to variability and extremes in intra-annual weather variables, which can improve our capability to perform adaptive grazing management in a similar semiarid grassland ecosystem.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-61
Number of pages13
JournalRangeland Ecology and Management
StatePublished - Mar 2024


  • C grasses
  • C grasses
  • adaptive grazing management
  • climate change
  • forage production
  • plant functional groups

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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