JST01 Juniperus virginiana seedling trial with and without bison at Konza Prairie


We report the results of a 30-year experiment at Konza Prairie, a mesic grassland in the Central Great Plains, under fire suppression (20-year fire return intervals) and experimental presence/absence of bison. Based on remote sensing, the land cover of deciduous trees was lower (6% grazed vs. 16% ungrazed) in bison-grazed areas. There was no difference between shrub land cover (42% grazed and 41%) and herbaceous land cover was higher in the grazed vs the ungrazed (51% grazed and 40% ungrazed). The land cover of evergreen trees (Juniperus virginiana L.)—which disproportionately decreases native biodiversity and increases wildfire risk—was approximately 0% with bison compared to 4% without bison. In a seedling trial of J. virginiana L., we found eight times greater over-winter mortality in the bison treatment.

Juniperus virginina seedlings were transplanted with and without bison to compare mortality rates.

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In the autumn of 2020, we transplanted 40 J. virginiana L. seedlings into catchment basins with and without bison. Seedlings were 10 to 30 cm tall and were obtained from a J. virginiana L. woodland from a private property located 11 miles NNE of our study site, from a location similar soil to our sites. Along a fence-line contrast, twenty were planted in an area with bison access and twenty without bison access in November of 2020. Each treatment had two 100 m long transects placed 200 m apart. Along each transect, one seedling was planted every 10 meters along the 100 m transect (n=20 seedlings for bison grazed and n=20 for ungrazed). Seedlings were revisited in December 2020, in January 2021, and in February 2021. With each visit, mortality and the apparent cause of mortality (browsed, trampling, and ripped out) were tracked. Seedling tracking was finished in February, as these treatments were scheduled to burn in the spring.



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