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Great Plains Cliff and Outcrop

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Provisional State Rank: S5

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General Description

This system includes cliffs and outcrops throughout the Western Great Plains. Substrate can range from sandstone and limestone, which can often form bands in the examples of this system. Vegetation is restricted to shelves, cracks and crevices in the rock. This system differs from Great Plains Badlands in that often the soil is slightly developed and less erodible, and some grass and shrub species can occur with a cover of more than 10 percent. Common species in this system include short shrubs such as three leaf sumac (Rhus trilobata) and sagebrush (Artemisia spp.), and mixed grass species such as sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) and prairie sandreed (Calamovilfa longifolia). Drought and wind erosion are the most common natural dynamics affecting this system. This system is embedded within the mixed grass and sand prairie regions of eastern Montana and the fescue grasslands of the northwestern Great Plains region. Climate is typical of mid continental regions with long severe winters and warm summers. Precipitation ranges from 300 to 650 millimeters (12 to 26 inches) with two-thirds coming during the summer and most of the other third in the spring. The growing season is on average 115 days, although the growing season ranges from 100 days on the Canadian border to 130 days on the Wyoming border. Typical land use is grazing. This system can occur where the land lies well above its local base level or below, and is created by several factors, including elevation, wind, rainfall, carving action of streams, erosion and parent material.


Diagnostic Characteristics
less than 10% vegetation cover, cliff, ustic soils, very shallow soils, flood scouring

Similar Systems

Range
This system is scattered throughout eastern Montana and the northwestern glaciated plains where eroded landscapes impair the ability of vegetation to thrive. Elsewhere, this system is found at scattered locations from southern Manitoba and North Dakota, south to northwestern Texas and the eastern half of the Rocky Mountain states south to New Mexico.

Ecological System Distribution
Approximately 109 square kilometers are classified as Great Plains Cliff and Outcrop in the 2013 Montana Land Cover layers.  Grid on map is based on USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle map boundaries.



Montana Counties of Occurrence
Beaverhead, Big Horn, Blaine, Carbon, Carter, Cascade, Chouteau, Fergus, Garfield, Glacier, Golden Valley, Hill, Judith Basin, Lewis and Clark, Liberty, Madison, McCone, Meagher, Musselshell, Petroleum, Phillips, Pondera, Powder River, Rosebud, Stillwater, Sweet Grass, Teton, Toole, Treasure, Valley, Wheatland, Yellowstone

Spatial Pattern
Small patch

Environment
These systems are primarily found on cliffs and outcrops throughout the western Great Plains region of Montana. Landforms such as buttes, mesas, and eroded cliff bands constitute the major landforms. A combination of factors such as elevation, rainfall, wind erosion and parent material can contribute to the development of this system. It contains pockets of soil development below the cliff faces, usually derived from limestone and sandstone parent materials. Soils are dry and easily erodible. The system is found within an arid to semi-arid climate with infrequent, but torrential, rains that cause erosion. Climate is typical of mid continental regions with long severe winters and warm summers. Precipitation ranges from 300 to 650 millimeters (12 to 26 inches) with two-thirds coming during the summer and most of the other third in the spring. The growing season is on average 115 days, although the growing season ranges from 100 days on the Canadian border to 130 days on the Wyoming border. This system can occur where the land lies well above its local base level or below and is created by several factors, including elevation, wind, rainfall, carving action of streams, erosion and parent material.

Vegetation

Vegetation is restricted to shelves, cracks and crevices in the rock. Vegetation is typically a mixture of shrub and herbaceous species. Common shrubs include three leaf sumac, greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus), Gardner’s saltbush (Atriplex gardneri), big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), silver sagebrush (Artemisia cana), rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus species) and saltbush (Atriplex species). In the northwestern Great Plains region of Montana, it can include horizontal juniper (Juniperus horizontalis), common juniper (Juniperus communis), bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), and shrubby cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa).

Forbs adapted to sandy soils and sandstone and limestone substrates inhabit this system. Common species include buckwheat (Eriogonumspecies), threadleaf snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae), Hooker’s sandwort (Arenaria hookeri), bud sagebrush (Picrothamnus desertorum), curlycup gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa), bladderpod (Lesquerella species), twinpod (Physariaspecies), douglasia (Douglasia montana), rock evening primrose (Oenothera cespitosa), four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) and penstemon (Penstemon species). In Montana, graminoid cover is typically sparse. Species include sideoats grama, blue grama, prairie sandreed, western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii), bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata), and Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides).


Alliances and Associations
Alliances
  • (A.1836) 
  • (A.1838) 
  • (A.1619) (Gordon's Bladderpod, Oval-leaf Bladderpod) Herbaceous Alliance
  • (A.1642) Hooker's Sandwort Barrens Herbaceous Alliance
  • (A.1874) Longleaf Wormwood Sparsely Vegetated Alliance

Dynamic Processes
Communities associated with this ecological system are adapted to soils that may be dry throughout the growing season. Typically, soils are more developed than in similar badlands systems and are derived from sandstone or limestone. Communities can be tolerant of managed grazing practices or light-intensity fires, but are not tolerant of heavy use on the landscape due to easily erodible conditions. Soils can also be strongly influenced by infrequent, but often torrential, rains. Invasive species can become established where there is frequent disturbance.

Management
This system is usually not subjected to heavy grazing or human disturbances. However, invasive species can out-compete existing herbaceous native vegetation within this system.

Restoration Considerations
Eliminating grazing or implementing light grazing regimes may allow the sparse vegetation to recover.

Species Associated with this Ecological System
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (high, medium, or low) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2001, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species’ range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of “observations versus availability of habitat”.
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were associated as using an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  High, medium, and low habitat quality was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species in the literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignments of habitat quality.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact Bryce Maxell at bmaxell@mt.gov or (406) 444-3655.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: http://mtnhp.org/requests/default.asp) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species’ known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2001.  The wild mammals of Montana.  Special Publication No. 12.  Lawrence, KS: The American Society of Mammalogists.  278 p.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana’s amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Original Concept Authors
Natureserve Western Ecology Group

Montana Version Authors
S.V. Cooper, T. Luna, and L.K.Vance

Version Date
2/19/2010

References
  • Classification and Map Identifiers

    Cowardian Wetland Classification: Not applicable

    National Vegetation Classification Standard:
    Class Non Vascular and Sparse Vegetation
    Subclass Mediterranean, Temperate and Boreal Non-Vascular and Sparse Vegetation
    Formation Temperate and Boreal Cliff, Scree and Rock Vegetation
    Division Great Plains Cliff, Scree and Rock Vegetation
    Macrogroup Great Plains Cliff, Scree and Rock Vegetation

    NatureServe Identifiers:
    Element Global ID 28522
    System Code CES303.665, Western Great Plains Cliff and Outcrop

    National Land Cover Dataset:
    31: Barren Land

    ReGAP:
    3142: Western Great Plains Cliff and Outcrop



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Citation for data on this website:
Great Plains Cliff and Outcrop — Western Great Plains Cliff and Outcrop.  Montana Field Guide.  Retrieved on April 24, 2014, from http://FieldGuide.mt.gov/displayES_Detail.aspx?ES=3142
 
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