Vegetation responses to different spatial patterns of soil disturbances in burned and unburned tallgrass prairie

TitleVegetation responses to different spatial patterns of soil disturbances in burned and unburned tallgrass prairie
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2001
AuthorsRogers, WE, Hartnett, DC
JournalPlant Ecology
Pagination99 -109
Accession NumberKNZ0016
Keywordspattern, soil, spatial, tallgrass prairie, vegetation

Pocket gopher (Geomyidae) disturbances are created in spatiallypredictable patterns. This may influence resource heterogeneity and affectgrassland vegetation in a unique manner. We attempt to determine the extent towhich density and spatial pattern of soil disturbances influence tallgrassprairie plant community structure and determine how these disturbances interactwith fire. To investigate the effects of explicit disturbance patterns we createdsimulated pocket gopher burrows and mounds in various spatial patterns.Simulated burrows were drilled into the soil at different densities inreplicated plots of burned and unburned prairie. Separate plots of simulatedmounds were created in burned and unburned prairie at low, medium, or high mounddensities in clumped, uniform, or random spatial dispersions. In both burned and unburned plots, increased burrow density decreasedgraminoid biomass and increased forb biomass. Total-plant and graminoid biomasswere higher in burned than unburned plots while forb biomass was higher inunburned plots. Total-plant species richness was not significantly affected byburrow density or burning treatments, but graminoid species richness increasedin unburned plots and forb species richness increased in burned plots. Plant species richness was temporarily reduced directly on mounddisturbances compared to undisturbed prairie. Over time and at larger samplingscales, the interaction of fire and mound disturbance patterns significantlyaffected total-plant and graminoid species richness. The principal effect inburned and unburned prairie was decreased total-plant and graminoid speciesrichness with increased mound disturbance intensity. Although species richness at small patch scales was not increased by anyintensity of disturbance and species composition was not altered by theestablishment of a unique guild of disturbance colonizing plants, our studyrevealed that interactions between soil disturbances and fire alter the plantcommunity dominance structure of North American tallgrass prairie primarily viachanges to graminoids. Moreover, these effects become increasingly pronouncedover time and at larger spatial sampling scales.