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Feast or famine: How is global change affecting forage supply for Yellowstone’s ungulate herds?

Cite this dataset

Frank, Douglas et al. (2022). Feast or famine: How is global change affecting forage supply for Yellowstone’s ungulate herds? [Dataset]. Dryad.


The ecological integrity of US national parks and other protected areas are under threat in the Anthropocene. For Yellowstone National Park (YNP), the impacts that global change has already had on the park’s capacity to sustain its large migratory herds of wild ungulates is incompletely understood. Here we examine how two understudied components of global change, the historical increase in atmospheric CO2 and the spread of non-native, invasive plant species, may have altered the capacity of YNP to provide forage for ungulates over the last 200-plus years. We performed two experiments: (1) a growth chamber study that determined growth rates of important invasive and native YNP grasses that are forages for ungulates under pre-industrial (280 ppm) vs modern (410 ppm) CO2 levels, and (2) a field study that compared the effect of defoliation (clipping) on shoot growth of invasive and native mesic grassland plants under ambient CO2 conditions in 2019. The growth chamber experiment revealed that modern CO2 increased the growth rates of both invasive and native grasses, and invasive grasses grew faster regardless of CO2 conditions. The field results showed a continuum of positive to negative responses of shoot growth to defoliation, with a subgroup of invasive species responding most positively. Together the results indicated that the historical increase in CO2 and the spread of invasive species, some of which were planted to provide forage for ungulates in the early- and mid-1900s, have likely increased the capacity of forage production in YNP. However, rising CO2 has also resulted in regional warming and increased aridity in YNP, which will likely reduce grassland productivity. The challenge for global change biologists and park managers is to determine how competing components of global change have already and will increasingly affect forage dynamics and the sustainability of Yellowstone’s iconic ungulate herds in the Anthropocene.


There are two data sets. One data set is from a growth chamber experiment in which common native and invasive grasses of Yellowstone Nation National Park were grown under 270 ppm and 410 ppm CO2.  Shoot and root material were harvested separately, dried, and weighed.  Data are daily rates of growth of shoots, roots, and whole plants among species. The second data set is from a field experiment in which the growth responses of plant species in a mesic grassland to clipping events in June and July were measured.  Data are the effect of clipping, measured as the difference in daily growth of clipped minus unclipped controls, in June and July.

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