Published: Aug. 1, 2018

Katharine Suding head shotThe USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded Katharine Suding, CU Boulder Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Professor, a $1.2 million research grant. This Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) grant is part of NIFA’s $13.3 million investment toward improving agroecosystems resilience in a changing climate. Her four-year project is titled, Livestock ranching, rangelands, and Resilience: Ensuring adaptive capacity in an increasingly variable climate.

Suding, who is an INSTAAR Fellow, the Niwot LTER lead principal investigator, and ESA’s 2018 Robert H. MacArthur awardee, serves as the lead investigator. Collaborators on the project are from Utah State, UC Davis, U Arizona, U.S. Geological Survey, New Mexico State, and the USDA Agriculture Research Service.

NIFA recognizes the need to understand the best way to use and manage our natural resources to sustainably produce food and fiber for a growing population, ensuring prosperity for our producers as climate, environmental, and the socioeconomic conditions change. Outcomes from AFRI grant recipients will help inform how changing conditions will impact our ability to produce food and fiber into the future and provide tools and strategies to adapt to these changes for a sustainable and resilient agriculture. NIFA officially announced the 16 AFRI-funded projects in their July 2018 Bulletin

Suding and her collaborators will address agrosystems resilience through the lens of drought, one of the most devastating natural hazards faced by the United States today. Their project aims to implement climate adaptation that is tailored to local diversity in exposures, sensitivities and adaptation opportunities faced by ranchers and land managers. Differences in vulnerability are key considerations in building adaptation strategies as well as commonalities between vegetation and human adaptation strategies. The comparative framework spans five rangeland regions within the Western US: California annual grasslands, cold deserts, northern mixed prairie, shortgrass steppe, and hot deserts.

Their approach combines climate modeling and assessment with forage and livestock production models in a co-development framework to build scenarios and assess feasible, effective adaptation strategies. This iterative process combines research and extension to support a co-development of ideas, capitalizing on diverse adaptation strategies across western rangelands. This place-based coproduction approach, embedding their extension efforts throughout the project framework, will allow the research team to understand on-going adaptations to recent climate variability by the innovators and early adopters and then to explore how those early adaptations may need modification under future climate scenarios.