Restoring Tallgrass Prairie and Grassland Bird Populations in Tall Fescue Pastures With Winter Grazing
Keywordscompositional and structural changes
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CitationJohnson, T. N., & Sandercock, B. K. (2010). Restoring tallgrass prairie and grassland bird populations in tall fescue pastures with winter grazing. Rangeland Ecology & Management, 63(6), 679-688.
PublisherSociety for Range Management
JournalRangeland Ecology & Management
AbstractRestoration of grasslands dominated by tall fescue (Schedonorus phoenix [Scop.] Holub) to native tallgrass prairie usually requires burning, herbicides, or reseeding. We tested seasonal grazing by livestock in winter, combined with cessation of fertilization, as a restoration tool for modifying the competitive dynamics among herbaceous plants to restore tallgrass prairie communities in southeastern Kansas. In 2004-2005, we compared responses of grassland plants and birds across a chronosequence of pastures that were winter-grazed from 1 yr to 5 yr. We compared winter-grazed pastures to pastures grazed year-round and to local native prairie remnants as starting and endpoints for restoration, respectively. Abundance of native warm- season grasses increased from 2% to 3% mean relative frequency in pastures grazed year-round to 18% to 30% in winter-grazed pastures, and increased with duration of winter-grazing. Native warm-season grasses accounted for 1-6% of total live aboveground biomass in pastures grazed year-round, 1-34% in winter-grazed pastures, and 31-34% in native prairie remnants. Tall fescue abundance and biomass were similar among grazing treatments, with a trend for tall fescue to be less dominant in winter-grazed pastures. Tall fescue made up 9-40% of total aboveground biomass in year-round grazed pastures and 10-25% in winter-grazed pastures. Grassland birds showed variable responses to winter-grazing. Dickcissels (Spiza americana) and Henslow’s sparrows (Ammodramus henslowii) were more abundant in winter-grazed pastures, whereas eastern meadowlarks (Sturnella magna) and grasshopper sparrows (A. savannarum) had similar abundance in pastures grazed year-round and during winter. Winter-grazing of pastures dominated by tall fescue combined with suspension of nitrogen fertilization could be an effective restoration technique that allows use of prairie rangeland while improving habitat for sensitive grassland birds.