Effects of bison grazing, fire and topography on floristic diversity in tallgrass prairie

TitleEffects of bison grazing, fire and topography on floristic diversity in tallgrass prairie
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1996
AuthorsHartnett, DC, Hickman, KR, Walter, LEF
JournalJournal of Range Management
Pagination413 -420
Accession NumberKNZ00547
Keywordstallgrass prairie

Grazed and ungrazed sites subjected to different fire frequencies were sampled on the Konza Prairie Research Natural Area in northeast Kansas after 4 years of bison grazing (1987-1991). The objective was to study effects of bison grazing on plant species composition and diversity components (plant species richness, equitability, and spatial heterogeneity) in sites of contrasting fire frequency. Cover and frequency of cool-season graminoids (e.g. Poa pratensis L., Agropyron smithii Rydb., Carex spp.) and some forbs (e.g. Aster ericoides [A. Gray] Howell, and Oxalis stricta L.) were consistently higher in sites grazed by bison than in ungrazed exclosures, whereas the dominant warm-season grasses (Andropogon gerardii Vitman, Sorghastrum nutans [L.] Nash, Panicum virgatum L., Schizachyrium scoparium [Michx.] Nash) and other forbs (e.g. Solidago missouriensis Nutt.) decreased in response to bison. Plant species diversity (H′) and spatial heterogeneity in all areas sampled were significantly increased by bison. Increased heterogeneity and mean species richness in grazed prairie (40 species per sample site) compared to ungrazed prairie (29 species per site) were likely a result of greater microsite diversity generated by bison, whereas preferential grazing of the dominant grasses and concomitant increases in subordinate species resulted in an increase in equitability of species abundances. Species/area relationships indicated greater effects of bison on plant species richness with increasing sample area. Increases in plant diversity components associated with bison grazing were generally greater in annually burned than in 4-year burned sites. Effects of ungulate grazers on floristic diversity have important implications given recent evidence that plant species diversity and the compositional and production stability of grassland plant communities are positively related.