Looking to the future: key points for sustainable management of northern Great Plains grasslands.
The grasslands of the northern Great Plains (NGP) region of North America are considered endangered ecosystems and priority conservation areas yet have great ecological and economic importance. Grasslands in the NGP are no longer self-regulating adaptive systems. The challenges to these grasslands are widespread and serious (e.g. climate change, invasive species, fragmentation, altered disturbance regimes, and anthropogenic chemical loads). Because the challenges facing the region are dynamic, complex, and persistent, a paradigm shift in how we approach restoration and management of the grasslands in the NGP is imperative. The goal of this article is to highlight four key points for land managers and restoration practitioners to consider when planning management or restoration actions. First, we discuss the appropriateness of using historical fidelity as a restoration or management target because of changing climate, widespread pervasiveness of invasive species, the high level of fragmentation, and altered disturbance regimes. Second, we highlight ecosystem resilience and long-term population persistence as alternative targets. Third, because the NGP is so heavily impacted with anthropogenic chemical loading, we discuss the risks of ecological traps and extinction debt. Finally, we highlight the importance of using adaptive management and having patience during restoration and management. Consideration of these four points will help management and restoration of grasslands move toward a more successful and sustainable future. Although we specifically focus on the NGP of North America, these same issues and considerations apply to grasslands and many other ecosystems globally.