Effects of bison and cattle on growth, reproduction, and abundances of five tallgrass prairie forbs

TitleEffects of bison and cattle on growth, reproduction, and abundances of five tallgrass prairie forbs
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1997
AuthorsDamhoureyeh, SA, Hartnett, DC
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Pagination1719 -1728
Accession NumberKNZ00584
Keywordstallgrass prairie

Forb populations were sampled on Kansas tallgrass prairie to examine the effects of native (bison) and domestic (cattle) ungulates on plant growth, reproduction, and species abundances. Five locally and regionally abundant native tallgrass prairie perennials, Baptisia bracteata, Oenothera speciosa, Vernonia baldwinii, Solidago missouriensis, and Salvia azurea, were selected for study. Replicate watershed-level treatments included three grazing regimes (ungrazed, grazed by cattle, and grazed by bison), and two spring fire frequencies (annually burned and burned at 4-yr intervals). The results show that forb responses to ungulates in tallgrass prairie are complex and vary significantly among plant species, ungulate species, fire regimes, and plant life history stages. Some forbs (e.g., B. bracteata, O. speciosa, and V. baldwinii) increased in growth and reproduction in grazed sites, indicating competitive release in response to selective grazing of the dominant warm-season matrix grasses. Forbs that reduced performance in grazed sites are likely negatively affected by disturbances generated by ungulate nongrazing activities, because none of the forbs studied were directly consumed by bison or cattle. Large grazers had no detectable effect on the frequency of plant damage by other herbivores or pathogens. Significant effects of grazers on patterns of flowering and seed production were not congruent with their effects on population densities, indicating that variation in sexual reproduction plays a minor role in regulating local population abundances. Furthermore, the native and domestic ungulates differ significantly in their effects on forb growth and reproduction.