Woody plant encroachment—the dramatic increases in woody plant cover observed in many regions of the world over the past 100 years—is the single greatest threat to livestock production in the Great Plains.
This phenomenon is affecting primary production, hydrology, nutrient cycling, and biodiversity at local to continental scales and has socioeconomic implications for pastoral societies and commercial ranching enterprises that depend on livestock production.
These herbaceous-to-woody transformations will likely continue under future climate regimes. Land managers are being challenged to develop robust conservation plans for savanna ecosystems and to effectively restore sites that have undergone woody plant encroachment.
The impacts of cedar invasion were first documented by scientists in 1940 (soils), followed by impacts on livestock production (1973), and more recently broad impacts to society (water = 2005; wildfire = 2013; public education funding = 2016). Scroll down to learn more about the impacts of grasslands transforming to closed-canopy juniper woodland. Direct quotes from the scientific literature that form the basis for each synthesis point can be found at Supporting Details.