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Plant and Bird Community Dynamics in Mixed-Grass Prairie Grazed by Native and Domestic Herbivores
- Geaumont, Benjamin A., Hovick, Torre J., Limb, Ryan F., Mack, Wyatt M., Lipinski, Amanda R., Sedivec, Kevin K.
- Rangeland ecology & management 2018
- Ammodramus savannarum, Bartramia longicauda, Bouteloua curtipendula, Cynomys ludovicianus, Dyssodia, Nassella viridula, birds, cattle, dogs, grasses, habitats, herbivores, landscapes, life history, mixed-grass prairies, pastures, plant communities, spatial variation, surveys, vegetation structure, United States
- Native colonial and large ungulate herbivores infrequently coexist on contemporary landscapes but frequently would have in the past, and understanding these interactions is important for conservation in working landscapes—those lands managed for biological and economic objectives. Although many factors contribute to grassland bird declines, consistent and long-term removal of native herbivores from western grasslands promotes homogenous landscapes that are now uniformly grazed by cattle (Bos taurus). This shift in grassland disturbance patterns limits habitat availability for specialized grassland species. We investigated vegetation and bird community dynamics in pastures grazed by domestic cattle and a native colonial herbivore, the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus). The study occurred in the northern mixed-grass prairie of the United States on four experimental pastures stratified by the proportion of prairie dog occupancy to create an ecological gradient. Vegetation and bird surveys were conducted from 2012 to 2015 on and off prairie dog colonies. Vegetation and bird communities were not different along the experimental pasture gradient but did differ relative to location on versus off town. Prairie dogs induced changes in the plant community with midstatured grasses like side-oats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) and green needlegrass (Nassella viridula) being associated with off-colony sites while on-colony sites were associated with disturbance-tolerant species such as fetid marigold (Dyssodia papposa). The bird community responded to changes in vegetation structure resulting from prairie dogs with grasshopper sparrows (Ammodramus savannarum) being more abundant off colonies in areas with greater vegetation structure, while bird species with more complex life histories, such as the upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda), were associated with both on− and off−prairie dog colonies. Our findings demonstrate the importance of maintaining spatial heterogeneity in working landscapes and show that native colonial herbivores can help achieve this in the presence of herbivory by domestic cattle.