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ARS Home » Plains Area » El Reno, Oklahoma » Grazinglands Research Laboratory » Forage and Livestock Production Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #359212

Research Project: Bridging Project: Integrated Forage Systems for Food and Energy Production in the Southern Great Plains

Location: Forage and Livestock Production Research

Title: Tallgrass prairie responses to management practices and disturbances: a review

Author
item Wagle, Pradeep
item Gowda, Prasanna

Submitted to: Agronomy
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/9/2018
Publication Date: 12/12/2018
Citation: Wagle, P., Gowda, P.H. 2018. Tallgrass prairie responses to management practices and disturbances: a review. Agronomy. 8(12) 300. https://doi:10.3390/agronomy8120300.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy8120300

Interpretive Summary: Tallgrass prairie systems contribute heavily to livestock production in the United States. They frequently experience numerous anthropogenic and natural disturbances such as grazing, fire, and drought. In addition, they are usually managed less efficiently than croplands. Thus, understanding the consequences of different management practices and disturbances on the plant community composition and production, nutrient cycling, and microbial activities in tallgrass prairie is of great importance for both economic and conservation purposes. This review paper shows that most of the previous studies in tallgrass prairies evaluated the effect of single management or disturbance factor. However, there can be interacting effects of multiple management practices and interannual climatic variability to modify the response of tallgrass prairie systems. For example, nitrogen (N) fertilization was more effective to increase production on frequently or annually burnt sites (N limiting) than on infrequently burnt or unburnt sites (light limiting). Similarly, application of fertilizers was more effective in wet than dry years. Thus, it is necessary to examine the direct and interactive effects of multiple management practices such as burning, grazing, fertilization on biomass, plant community composition, soil properties, nutrient cycling, and soil microbes and their activities over various times (i.e., winter, spring, summer, fall) of the year.

Technical Abstract: Adoption of better management practices is crucial to lessen the impact of anthropogenic disturbances on tallgrass prairie systems that contribute heavily for livestock production in several states of the United States. This article reviews the impacts of different common management practices and disturbances (e.g., fertilization, grazing, burning) and tallgrass prairie restoration on plant growth and development, plant species composition, water and nutrient cycles, and microbial activities in tallgrass prairie systems. Although nitrogen (N) fertilization increases aboveground productivity of prairie systems, several factors greatly influence the range of stimulation across sites. For example, response to N fertilization was more evident on frequently or annually burnt sites (N limiting) than infrequently burnt and unburnt sites (light limiting). Frequent burning increased density of C4 grasses and decreased plant species richness and diversity, while plant diversity was maximized under infrequent burning and grazing. Grazing increased diversity and richness of native plant species by reducing aboveground biomass of dominant grasses and increasing light availability for other species. Restored prairies showed lower levels of species richness and soil quality compared to native remnants. Infrequent burning, regular grazing, and additional inputs can promote species richness and soil quality in restored prairies. However, this literature review indicated that all prairie systems might not show similar responses to treatments as the response might be influenced by another treatment, timing of treatments, and duration of treatments (i.e., short-term vs. long-term). Thus, it is necessary to examine the long-term responses of tallgrass prairie systems to main and interacting effects of combination of treatments at different times of the year.