This study employed ground and remote sensing methods to monitor the effects of grazing on leaf area index (LAI), fractional cover (fc) and evapotranspiration (ET) of a desert phreatophyte community over an 11 year period at a former uranium mill site on the Colorado Plateau, U.S. Nitrate, ammonium and sulfate are migrating away from the mill site in a shallow alluvial aquifer. The phreatophyte community, consisting of Atriplex canescens (ATCA) and Sarcobatus vermiculatus (SAVE) shrubs, intercepts groundwater and could potentially slow the movement of the contaminant plume through evapotranspiration (ET). However, the site has been heavily grazed by livestock, reducing plant cover and LAI. We used livestock exclosures and revegetation plots to determine the effects of grazing on LAI, fc and ET, then projected the findings over the whole site using multi-platform remote sensing methods. We show that ET is approximately equal to annual precipitation at the site, but when ATCA and SAVE are protected from grazing they can develop high fc and LAI values, and ET can exceed annual precipitation, with the excess coming from groundwater discharge. Therefore, control of grazing could be an effective method to slow migration of contaminants at this and similar sites in the western U.S.
Additional publication details
Effects of grazing on leaf area index, fractional cover and evapotranspiration by a desert phreatophyte community at a former uranium mill site on the Colorado Plateau