Growing-Season Disturbance in Tallgrass Prairie: Evaluating Fire and Grazing on Schizachyrium scoparium
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CitationLimb, R. F., Fuhlendorf, S. D., Engle, D. M., & Kerby, J. D. (2011). Growing-season disturbance in tallgrass prairie: evaluating fire and grazing on Schizachyrium scoparium. Rangeland Ecology & Management, 64(1), 28-36.
PublisherSociety for Range Management
JournalRangeland Ecology & Management
AbstractHistorically, fire occurred throughout the year in the Great Plains, but current fire prescriptions are generally limited to the dormant season because of concerns for potential damage to fire-sensitive herbaceous plant species deemed economically and ecologically important. We coupled a field-based study and a controlled greenhouse study to quantify the effects of fire season and herbivory on plant species composition, along with survival and productivity of little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium [Michx.] Nash). We investigated the effects of both dormant and growing-season fire interacting spatially with grazing on plant community composition in a 10-yr field study. We also examined the influence of both growing-season fire and clipping on survival and aboveground and belowground production of potted little bluestem plants at multiple ages in a controlled greenhouse experiment. Plants were grown to 6 wk, 10 wk, or 18 wk, then either burned or clipped, followed by as many as two successive clipping events. Plant community composition and canopy cover of little bluestem were unaffected by season-of- burning in the field study. Survival of individual little bluestem seedlings in the greenhouse study was dependent primarily on plant age, with nearly 100% survival among all burning and clipping treatments at 18 wk old. Burning or clipping once did not decrease survival compared to seedlings that were not burned or not clipped, and burning followed by clipping did not decrease survival over multiple clipping events among 6-wk-, 10-wk-, or 18-wk-old plants. Both aboveground regrowth and belowground biomass increased with burning, but clipping reduced regrowth. Based on both field and greenhouse experiments, we conclude that little bluestem is well adapted to growing-season disturbance. Moreover, little bluestem responds more positively to growing-season fire than to clipping. Our results provide no evidence that little bluestem should be deferred from grazing after burning as part of a rangeland management strategy.