Causes of fire effects in tallgrass prairie

TitleCauses of fire effects in tallgrass prairie
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1988
AuthorsHulbert, LC
Pagination46 -58
Accession NumberKNZ00186
Keywordstallgrass prairie

Eleven experimental treatments were applied to 2 x 2 m plots over 2 yr at Konza Prairie Research Natural Area, Riley County, Kansas, to ascertain why burning tallgrass prairie causes increased production and flowering. Warming of the soil in unburned plots resulted in an increase in both total production and flower stalk production of dominant tall grasses, primarily big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), but the increase was small (34% increase in biomass; 78% increase in number of flower stalks) compared with that in burned plots (151% increase in biomass; 435% increase in flower stalks). Increased surface light intensity also appears to be a factor affecting changes in productivity following burning as suggested by the combined responses of increased productivity with removal of standing dead, whether by clipping or burning, and decreased productivity with shading. Further, the addition of ammonium nitrate increased yield 41% and flowering 168% for the dominant grasses, suggesting that any factor increasing nitrogen availability would affect these vegetative parameters. Neither ash left from burning nor hrating of the soil surface during burning produced detectable effects on subsequent vegetative growth. Different results for some parameters between years and between species suggest that many complex interactions operate to affect the grassland's response to burning, but surface light, soil surface temperature, and nitrogen appear to be particularly important factors. Key words: aboveground biomass, bluestem prairie, burning, fire, flowering, soil temperature, tallgrass prairie