National Park Service

Southern Colorado Plateau Network (SCPN)

Parks in this Network

SCPN Network Map
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Landscape at Grand Canyon NP

Integrated Upland
Ecosystems
Monitoring

Publications

Project Summary
Monitoring Protocol (11 MB)

Inventory Reports

Monitoring Reports

SCPN parks have identified vital signs for this project and related monitoring

  1. Vegetation composition and structure
  2. Soil stability and upland hydrologic function
  3. Bird community composition and abundance
  4. Land surface phenology

Parks where SCPN conducts upland monitoring

Park Ecological Site
Aztec Ruins NM Limy
Bandelier NM Mesa Top Pinyon-Juniper
Chaco Culture NHP Sandy Loam Upland
El Malpais NM to be determined
El Morro NM to be determined
Glen Canyon NRA Desert Sand
Grand Canyon NP Loamy Hills and Loamy Hills Cold,
Limestone Upland
Mesa Verde NP Loamy Mesa Top Pinyon-Juniper,
Shallow Loamy Mesa Top Pinyon-Juniper
Petrified Forest NP Sandy Loam Upland,
Clayey Fan
Petroglyph NM Malpais
Walnut Canyon NM to be determined
Wupatki NM Limy Upland,
Sandstone Upland

SCPN is monitoring soil stability and vegetation composition and structure in predominant upland ecosystems in order to track changes in ecosystem integrity. Long-term vegetation monitoring reveals how plant assemblages change over time in response to the prevailing environment. Changes in vegetation in turn affect habitat quality for resident and migrant animal species. Monitoring soil stability and related hydrologic function provides a direct measure of the threat posed by erosion to these ecosystems.

Both natural and anthropogenic disturbances shape upland ecosystems. Past intensive grazing over much of the Colorado Plateau degraded vegetation conditions, and compacted and eroded soil. While grazing no longer occurs in most SCPN parks and vegetation is recovering, cattle grazing continues in Glen Canyon NRA.

Climate change projections for the Southwest predict warmer temperatures, reduced snowfall and more extreme climatic events. This would exacerbate the role of drought in controlling vegetation dynamics and may increase the spread of invasive exotic plants. Fire regimes are an important driver of Colorado Plateau vegetation dynamics, especially in the montane forests. SCPN works with the NPS Fire Effects program to monitor the effects of natural and prescribed wildland fires in network parks. With predicted climate change looming, more frequent and severe wildfires are expected for the Southwest.

Monitoring Objectives

  • Determine the status and trends in composition, structure and diversity of plant communities in selected predominant ecological sites.
  • Determine the status and trends in soil stability and upland hydrologic function within selected predominant upland ecological sites.
  • Determine the relationships between vegetation patterns and soil stability/hydrologic function.
Winged four o'clock bush in the tropic shale at Glen<br />Canyon NRA (SCPN photo) Monitoring soils at Mesa Verde NP<br />(SCPN photo) Sampling a mixed conifer forest vegetation quadrat in Grand Canyon NP (SCPN photo) Tagging a tree in Grand Canyon NP<br />(SCPN photo) Characterizing soil in Chaco Culture NHP<br />(SCPN photo) Measuring basal gaps in Petrified Forest NP<br />(SCPN photo) Blue grama grass in Wupatki NM<br />(SCPN photo) Laying out a plot in pinyon-juniper woodlands at Grand Canyon NP (SCPN photo) Travelling between plots in Bandelier NM<br />(SCPN photo) Evening primrose at Glen Canyon NRA<br />(SCPN photo) Measuring tree diameter in mixed conifer forest at Grand Canyon NP (SCPN photo) Mountain death camas in mixed conifer forest at Bandelier NM (SCPN photo) Juniper grassland in Wupatki NM<br />(SCPN photo) Testing soil stability in Chaco Culture NHP<br />(SCPN photo) Prickly pear flower in Canyon de Chelly NM<br />(SCPN photo) Sampling a grassland vegetation quadrat in Petrified Forest NP (SCPN photo) Vegetation plot in Wupatki NM<br />(SCPN photo)

Monitoring Project Status

Vegetation and soils are monitored annually across a variety of ecological sites in nine SCPN parks (three more are still in the planning stage). Integrated upland monitoring began in 2007. The Integrated Upland Monitoring Protocol for the Southern Colorado Plateau Network was published in September 2012.

Project Contact

Megan Swan, Botanist
Southern Colorado Plateau Network

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Last Updated: December 08, 2017 Contact Webmaster