Evaluation of Central North American prairie management based on species diversity, life form, and individual species metrics

Conserv Biol. 2007 Jun;21(3):864-74. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2006.00619.x.


Reintroduction of fire and grazing, alone or in combination, has increasingly been recognized as central to the restoration of North American mixed-grass and tallgrass prairies. Although ecological studies of these systems are abundant, they have generally been observational, or if experimental, have focused on plant species diversity. Species diversity measures alone are not sufficient to inform management, which often has goals associated with life-form groups and individual species. We examined the effects of prescribed fire, light cattle grazing, and a combination of fire and grazing on three vegetation components: species diversity, groups of species categorized by life-form, and individual species. We evaluated how successful these three treatments were in achieving specific management goals for prairies in the Iowa Loess Hills (U.S.A.). The grazing treatment promoted the greatest overall species richness, whereas grazing and burning and grazing treatments resulted in the lowest cover by woody species. Burning alone best achieved the management goals of increasing the cover and diversity of native species and reducing exotic forb and (predominantly exotic) cool-season grass cover. Species-specific responses to treatments appeared idiosyncratic (i.e., within each treatment there existed a set of species attaining their highest frequency) and nearly half of uncommon species were present in only one treatment. Because all management goals were not achieved by any one treatment, we conclude that management in this region may need refining. We suggest that a mosaic of burning and grazing (alone and in combination) may provide the greatest landscape-level species richness; however, this strategy would also likely promote the persistence of exotic species. Our results support the need to consider multiple measures, including species-specific responses, when planning and evaluating management.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / methods*
  • Biodiversity*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Iowa
  • Plants