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Effects of Grazing on Restoration of Southern Mixed Prairie Soils



A comparative analysis of soils and vegetation from cultivated areas reseeded to native grasses and native prairies that have not been cultivated was conducted to evaluate restoration of southern mixed prairie of the Great Plains over the past 30 to 50 years. Restored sites were within large tracts of native prairie and part of long-term grazing intensity treatments (heavy, moderate, and ungrazed), allowing evaluation of the effects of grazing intensity on prairie restoration. Our objective was to evaluate restored and native sites subjected to heavy and moderate grazing regimes to determine if soil nutrients from reseeded cultivated land recovered after 30 years of management similar to the surrounding prairie and to identify the interactive influence of different levels of grazing and history of cultivation on plant functional group composition and soils in mixed prairies. For this mixed prairie, soil nitrogen and soil carbon on previously cultivated sites was 30 to 40% lower than in uncultivated native prairies, indicating that soils from restored sites have not recovered over the past 30 to 50 years. In addition, it appears that grazing alters the extent of recovery of these grassland soils as indicated by the significant interaction between grazing intensity and cultivation history for soil nitrogen and soil carbon. Management of livestock grazing is likely a critical factor in determining the potential restoration of mixed prairies. Heavy grazing on restored prairies reduces the rate of soil nutrient and organic matter accumulation. These effects are largely due to changes in composition (reduced tallgrasses), reduced litter accumulation, and high cover of bare ground in heavily grazed restored prairies. However, it is evident from this study that regardless of grazing intensity, restoration of native prairie soils requires many decades and possibly external inputs to adequately restore organic matter, soil carbon, and soil nitrogen.