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OSU researcher wins prestigious award for leadership in rangeland management

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Portrait of Sam Fuhlendorf


Oklahoma State University regents professor Sam Fuhlendorf received the Society for Range Management W.R. Chapline Research Award in February for his vast contributions to the field of rangeland ecology.


“This award is an honor for me, but even more so, it is an honor for the OSU Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, OSU Agriculture and the university as a whole,” Fuhlendorf said. “None of my work would have been possible without amazing colleagues and collaborators as well as the wonderful mentors that I’ve had at OSU and beyond.”


Fuhlendorf’s research focuses on how animals feeding on plants (herbivory) and livestock grazing interact with climate and fire to create land cover in plant communities. His early research contributed to the transition from traditional perspectives on vegetation change in drylands to the perspective currently studied by dryland ecologists worldwide. This perspective has been adopted by federal agencies.


“Dr. Fuhlendorf’s work has profoundly shaped and advanced the field of rangeland ecology, conservation and management,” said Brad Wilcox, Sid Kyle Endowed professor in the Ecology and Conservation Biology Department at Texas A&M University and a member of SRM. “Undoubtedly, a generation from now, Sam Fuhlendorf will be recognized as someone whose original and creative ideas revolutionized the way rangeland ecosystems are managed.”


Most recently, Fuhlendorf developed a novel, ecological approach to the management of sub-humid, semi-dry and dry landscapes based on pyric herbivory, which refers to how the interactions between fire and grazing change landscapes. This concept, which embodies the interactive ecological effects of fire and grazing known to be critical for maintaining landscape scale and biodiversity in grasslands, is revolutionizing rangeland management.


“The beneficial effects of pyric herbivory have been well-documented by Sam and his colleagues through a prestigious output in referred literature,” Wilcox said. “Sam’s passion for academic excellence is evidenced in a research record to be envied. He has been published widely and in some of the most prestigious ecological journals. His research productivity has been breathtaking.”


Fuhlendorf has published more than 225 peer-reviewed papers on ecological science. He has published in scientific journals, such as “Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society,” “Bioscience,” “Conservation Biology,” “Global Ecology and Biogeography,” and the flagship journal of SRM, “Rangeland Ecology and Management.” His work has garnered more than 14,600 citations and represents some of the most widely referenced work on the interactions between fire and grazing on rangelands.


Fuhlendorf has managed several multi-disciplinary programs focusing on understanding the social and ecological relationship on rangelands. His most recent endeavor, The Prairie Project, is a $10 million program aimed at increasing the use of pyric herbivory across The Great Plains. As a professor and advisor, he has a profound impact on graduate and undergraduate education, developing and teaching OSU’s largest ecology class.


Other awards and honors Fuhlendorf has received include the SRM Sustained Lifetime Achievement Award and the Groendyke Chair in Wildlife Conservation.


“Dr. Fuhlendorf has fundamentally changed how we view the management of rangelands, which occupy 50% of the world’s land surface area. Prior to his work, a commonly held view regarding rangeland management was to manage for uniformity to maximize a single goal, usually for livestock production,” said Jim Ansley, department head of the natural resource ecology and management department. “Dr. Fuhlendorf recognized that rangelands provide multiple ecosystem services, such as wildlife habitat, resilience to drought and clean water yield and should be managed to provide for those services.


“He and his colleagues developing pyric herbivory provided an economical means to achieve those goals, Ansley continued. “It is a remarkable accomplishment. Like many major scientific accomplishments, his ideas were first met in the discipline with strong reservations and are now well accepted.”     

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