Site Preparation Drives Long-Term Plant Community Dynamics in Restored Tallgrass Prairie: A Case Study in Southeastern South Dakota

Environ Manage. 2016 Oct;58(4):597-605. doi: 10.1007/s00267-016-0736-9. Epub 2016 Jul 14.


Most tallgrass prairies have been destroyed or altered, making restoration an important component to their conservation. Our goal was to evaluate progress 12-years post-restoration at Spirit Mound Historic Prairie and determine whether the outcomes varied based on different land use and restoration histories across the site. We examined changes in plant diversity, richness, evenness, non-native species relative abundance, and community composition from 2004 to 2013. Areas with different restoration treatments and land-use histories showed divergent results. Seventy percent of the site, previously annual row crop, was reconstructed using herbicide application followed by native seeding (hereafter reconstruction). Areas that were previously grazed, 15 % of the site, were restored with only partial seeding and no herbicide treatment (hereafter rehabilitation). Species richness and diversity increased over 40 % in the reconstruction since 2004 and remained over 1.9 times higher in the reconstructed areas than rehabilitated areas. Diversity did not change in the rehabilitation, but richness increased 47 % since 2004. Evenness decreased 11-26 % over time in both areas. Non-native species relative abundance did not change from 2004 to 2013, and remained five times higher in the rehabilitation than the reconstruction. Native C4 grass and forb abundance increased over time in the reconstruction, whereas non-native C3 grasses remained dominant in the rehabilitation. These results showed that restoration outcomes were radically different 12-years post-restoration among areas with different prior land uses that were subjected to different restoration practices. Long-term assessments are important to accurately determine restoration progress and inform management decisions.

Keywords: Agriculture; Cropland; Grassland; Land-use legacies; Prairie restoration; Spirit Mound.

MeSH terms

  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Grassland*
  • Kinetics
  • Poaceae / growth & development*
  • South Dakota
  • Time Factors