Interactive effects of grazing, drought, and fire on grassland plant communities in North America and South Africa

TitleInteractive effects of grazing, drought, and fire on grassland plant communities in North America and South Africa
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsKoerner, SE, Collins, SL
Pagination98 -109
Accession NumberKNZ001586

Grazing, fire, and climate shape mesic grassland communities. With global change altering all three factors, understanding how grasslands respond to changes in these combined drivers may aid in projecting future changes in grassland ecosystems. We manipulated rainfall and simulated grazing (clipping) in two long-term fire experiments in mesic grasslands in North America (NA) and South Africa (SA). Despite their common drivers, grasslands in NA and SA differ in evolutionary history. Therefore, we expected community structure and production in NA and SA to respond differently to fire, grazing, and drought. Specifically, we hypothesized that NA plant community composition and production would be more responsive than the SA plant communities to changes in the drivers and their interactions, and that despite this expected stability of SA grasslands, drought would be the dominant factor controlling production, but grazing would play the primary role in determining community composition at both sites. Contrary to our hypothesis, NA and SA grasslands generally responded similarly to grazing, drought, and fire. Grazing increased diversity, decreased grass cover and production, and decreased belowground biomass at both sites. Drought alone minimally impacted plant community structure, and we saw similar treatment interactions at the two sites. Drought was not the primary driver of grassland productivity, but instead drought effects were similar to or less than grazing and fire. Even though these grasslands differed in evolutionary history, they responded similarly to our fire, grazing, and climate manipulations. Overall, we found community and ecosystem convergence in NA and SA grasslands. Grazing and fire are as important as climate in controlling mesic grassland ecosystems on both continents.