• Topoedaphic Variability and Patch Burning in Sand Sagebrush Shrubland

      Winter, Stephen L.; Fuhlendorf, Samuel D.; Goad, Carla L.; Davis, Craig A.; Hickman, Karen R. (Society for Range Management, 2011-11-01)
      Patch burning is the deliberate application of fire to a management unit in a heterogeneous manner, resulting in the heterogeneous distribution of grazing animal impact. The application of patch burning typically has been discussed within a framework of imposing heterogeneity on a homogeneous landscape or management unit, yet most landscapes and management units are actually distinguished by an inherent level of heterogeneity. Within landscapes and management units, differing topography and soils interact to create patterns of contrasting patches, also known as topoedaphic sites. Thus, introduction of a heterogeneous disturbance such as patch burning on a landscape or management unit is more accurately described as the imposition of one layer of heterogeneity onto a pre-existing layer of heterogeneity. We examined effects of patch burning on vegetation structure and animal distribution across contrasting topographical sites in sand sagebrush (Artemisia filifolia Torr.) shrubland of the southern Great Plains in North America. Landscapes at our study site were characterized by an inherent amount of heterogeneity in vegetation structure due to variability in topoedaphic sites, and the patch burning treatment superimposed additional heterogeneity that was constrained by topoedaphic characteristics. Shrub-dominated sites were more dependent on patch burning for heterogeneity of vegetation structure than sites dominated by short grasses. Distribution patterns of cattle (Bos taurus) were not significantly different across treatments, though they followed patterns similar to previous studies. We demonstrated that heterogeneity was dependent on topoedaphic patterns and the application of patch burning management for heterogeneity was dependent on the inherent variability of a landscape.