Small-scale patch structure in North American and South African grasslands responds differently to grazing and fire

TitleSmall-scale patch structure in North American and South African grasslands responds differently to grazing and fire
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsKoerner, SE, Collins, SL
JournalLandscape Ecology
Pagination1293 -1306
Accession NumberKNZ001541
KeywordsDominance-diversity, Grass-forb interaction, heterogeneity, Konza Prairie, Kruger National Park, Semi-variance

Fire and grazing significantly impact small-scale patch structure and dynamics in savanna grasslands. We assessed small-scale grass-forb associations in long-term fire and grazing experiments in North America (NA) and Southern Africa (SA). Transects of 128 0.25 m2 contiguous quadrats were sampled in areas with different combinations of grazing (ungrazed, single grazer, or multiple grazers) and fire frequency (unburned or annually burned). We predicted that (1) the patch structure of each of the dominant grasses in NA and SA would respond similarly to fire and grazing, and (2) that forb richness would be correlated to grass patch structure. Semi-variance analysis was used to determine patch structure of dominant grasses and forb cover. Community structure responded similarly in NA and SA to fire, grazing, and fire-grazing interactions. Species richness, diversity, and community heterogeneity were significantly higher in unburned-grazed sites. Grazing significantly increased forb cover and decreased cover of the dominant grasses, and the effects of fire on community structure depended on the grazing regime. Contrary to our prediction, we found that small-scale patch structure of the dominant grass species in NA and SA responded differently to grazing and fire. We found strong grass patch structure in unburned-ungrazed grasslands in both sites; however, grazing and fire reduced patch structure in NA but not SA, and in no instance did grass patch structure influence forb community structure. We conclude that fire and grazing have larger impacts on small-scale patch structure in NA than they do in SA even though overall community structure responded similarly on both continents.