• Late growing-season fire effects in mid-successional tallgrass prairies

      Engle, D. M.; Mitchell, R. L.; Stevens, R. L. (Society for Range Management, 1998-01-01)
      Wildfire in the growing season is relatively frequent and interest is increasing in using growing-season fire in management of tallgrass prairie. However, the influence of fire in the growing season on forage production and species composition, especially in mid-successional tallgrass prairie, is largely unknown. Our objective was to compare vegetation composition and production on Loamy Prairie and Very Shallow ecological sites in mid-successional stages in response to late growing-season fire at different frequencies. We applied 4 burning treatments (no burn, or 1, 2, or 3 burns in 5 years) in the late growing season in southern Oklahoma during a series of years of above-average precipitation. The sites were dominated at the beginning of the study by early- and mid-successional species including prairie threeawn (Aristida oligantha (Michx)), a species indicating a disturbance history. After the initial burns in 1990, tallgrasses, little bluestem, and perennial grasses were reduced by burning on the Loamy site. Forbs were more productive on burned plots (1,980 kg ha-1) than on plots that were not burned (1,290 kg ha-1) averaged across sites. Total production was not reduced by burning in 1990. Growing-season burns in 2 consecutive years had little influence on species composition or production as compared to a single burn in 2 years. Warm-season perennial grasses other than tallgrasses and little bluestem increased on the Loamy site, but decreased on the Shallow site. Production of cool-season perennial grasses increased to almost 40% of total production on twice-burned plots averaged across sites. Other than the effect on cool-season perennial grasses, 2 burns over a two-year period had little effect beyond the first growing season after the second burn. Twice-burned plots and plots burned 3 times produced more forbs than either plots that were burned once or not burned. Production of perennial grasses was opposite that of forb production. Total production was not reduced on either site regardless of fire frequency. Results indicate managers may expect a short-term reduction in production of forage grasses and an increase in forbs following late growing-season fire in mid-successional tallgrass prairies.