• Vegetation dynamics from annually burning tallgrass prairie in different seasons

      Towne, E. Gene; Kemp, Ken E. (Society for Range Management, 2003-03-01)
      Traditional perception of how tallgrass prairie responds to fire at times other than late spring is either anecdotal or extrapolated from studies that lack spatial or temporal variability. Therefore, we evaluated patterns of change in vegetation cover, species richness, diversity, and aboveground biomass production on 2 different topographic positions from ungrazed watersheds that were burned annually for 8 years in either autumn (November), winter (February), or spring (April). Topoedaphic factors influenced the response patterns of some species to seasonal fire, although differences were primarily in the rate of change. Annual burning in autumn and winter produced similar trends through time for most species. Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii Vitman) cover increased with all burn regimes, whereas indiangrass [Sorghastrum nutans (L.) Nash] increased only with spring burning. Repeated autumn and winter burning eventually increased perennial forb cover, with the largest increases occurring in heath aster [Symphyotrichum ericoides (L.) Nesom], aromatic aster [S. oblognifolium (Nutt.) Nesom], tall goldenrod (Solidago canadensis L.), and legumes. Species richness increased (P < 0.001) through time with spring and winter burning, but was similar among all burn treatments after 8 years of annual fire. Average grass and forb biomass did not differ among burn seasons on either topographic position, although interannual biomass production fluctuated inconsistently with time of burn. Our findings contrast with many of the conventional views of how tallgrass prairie vegetation responds to seasonal fire and challenges traditional recommendations that burning should only occur in late spring.