Restoration Efforts for Plant and Bird Communities in Tallgrass Prairies Using Prescribed Burning and Mowing

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Abstract

Recent losses and fragmentation of tallgrass prairie habitat to agriculture and urban development have led to corresponding declines in diversity and abundance of plants and birds associated with such habitat. Mowing and burning are alternative management strategies for restoring and rejuvenating prairies in fragmented landscapes, but their specific, comparative effects are the subjects of ongoing evaluation. We compared the responses of plant and bird communities on four sets of mowed, burned, and untreated sites of small (3–10 ha), fragmented tallgrass prairies at the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge (DNWR), Iowa, U.S.A., during May–July in 1998 and 1999. Species richness and diversity of plants, resident grassland birds, and communities of birds associated with grassland edges (edge species) were independent of treatment. Although not affecting species richness and diversity in plant communities, mowed sites ranked lower in total plant coverage and total forb coverage than burned sites or untreated sites. In contrast, untreated sites had more coverage by shrubs, suggesting that mowing and burning did retard shrub encroachment. Overall, abundance and diversity of plants and birds were generally insensitive to management strategies. Small, fragmented sites of rare habitat may not respond in the short term to management treatments and may not be capable of supporting highly diverse communities, no matter how intensively manipulated. It is more probable that diversity of native prairie communities can be enhanced and restored only through long-term efforts, acquisition of large land units capable of supporting stable populations, and deliberate reintroduction of species of high conservation value.

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