The University of Arizona

The response of central North American prairies to seasonal fire.

D.M. Engle, T.G. Bidwell


Natural fires on the native grasslands of Oklahoma and Kansas were important for maintaining ecosystem structure and function. Today, land managers largely conduct prescribed fires in the late dormant season or they do not burn at all. When wildfires occur in other seasons, conventional wisdom assumes that desirable forage species for cattle are compromised. This assumption is based on a few fire studies limited in breadth and scope. To address this, we revisited numerous data sets to quantify the influence of season of fire on plant production and species composition. Research demonstrates that tallgrass prairie burned in the late spring starts growth earlier, grows more rapidly early in the growing season, and produces more tall grasses than unburned prairie. We contrast this response with the literature reporting the results of fire occurring in other seasons. Fire effects vary with fire frequency, fire-return interval, grazing history, herbicide use, successional stage, weather pattern, edaphic features, and topography. Our review of research suggests that a variety of responses to fire season are possible and rules-of-thumb that generalize responses are misleading. Most of the research on fire also does not report the interaction of fire and herbivory. Thus it is difficult to judge the influence of fire within the context of herbivory. Results from ongoing research suggest that the prairie is far more resilient under the interaction of fire and herbivory than earlier believed.



tallgrass rairie;great plains states of usa;mixed prairie;forage legumes;seasons;seral stages;wildfire management;legumes;frequency;Kansas;fire ecology;perennials;fires;fire effects;stocking rate;selective grazing;prescribed burning;forbs;Oklahoma;biomass production;grazing intensity;prairies;grasses;beef cattle

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