The Central Plains Experimental Range (CPER) is located at the western edge of the Pawnee National Grasslands in Colorado, 19 kilometers northeast of Nunn, Colorado. The elevation ranges between 1,500-1,700 meters.
Site history & management
CPER includes 6,300 hectares of undulating rangeland. Large herbivores such as cattle (and previously, bison), and burrowing animals such as the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) play dominant roles in ecosystem function and maintenance. CPER retains most of the features representative of pre-settlement conditions, with large native herbivores. CPER is influenced by contemporary land-use practices, such as agriculture and cattle grazing.
NEON collects a standard suite of data at CPER; however, data collected at this site serves as a benchmark for exploring the causes and consequences of environmental change taking place throughout the grasslands of the Central Plains Domain, with results relevant to arid and semi-arid grassland ecosystems worldwide. Overall, the Front Range of Colorado is growing at 3 times the national average with the population expected to surpass 5.7 million by 2030. Conversion of native vegetation to urban and suburban landscapes drastically alters biological diversity, reduces soil organic matter and alters the temporal and spatial distribution of plant biomass.
The dominant vegetation at CPER is moderately grazed Shortgrass steppe. The biotic communities of the Shortgrass steppe ecosystem are well adapted for drought; other vegetative species include blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) and prickly-pear cactus (Opuntia polyacantha). CPER represents grassland communities across a multiple domains and a range of climatic regions.