August 18, 2014
A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences quantifies the loss of rangeland, such as grasslands and savannas, in the United States and Argentina. Using census data and remote sensors, the research team - which included Distinguished Sustainability Scientist Osvaldo Sala - found that encroaching woody plants like shrubs and trees diminish livestock production.
“While the phenomenon of woody plant invasion has been occurring for decades, for the first time, we have quantified the losses in ecosystem services,” said Sala. “We found that an increase in tree and shrub cover of 1 percent leads to a 2 percent loss in livestock production.”
Because, according to the study's findings, woody plant cover in North America increases at a rate of between .5 and 2 percent each year, rangelands are likely to experience a continued decrease in meat production.