An experiment was conducted to evaluate the potential for using arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal (AMF) root colonization and pasture reflectance characteristics as indicators of changes in tallgrass prairie vegetation resulting from differences in grazing history. The experiment was conducted within the context of a separate long-term experiment in which eight 4·9-ha pastures were grazed by either bison or cattle for nine consecutive years. Two separate ungrazed pastures were selected for comparison with grazed areas on the basis of similarity in burning regime, vegetation, soil and topographic characteristics. Four 45 m-long transects were located in the upland sites within each pasture, and four plots were clipped to ground level along each transect. Reflectance readings were taken with a hand-held radiometer at each sampling location and a soil core was collected within each plot for analysis of AMF root colonization. Reflectance readings at sixteen different wavelengths were used directly as inputs during multiple regression development or were transformed into each of three vegetation indices (normalized difference vegetation index, soil-adjusted vegetation index and wide-dynamic-range vegetation index) and used in simple linear regressions. Ungrazed pastures were characterized by higher (P < 0·01) grass biomass, total biomass and canopy height than grazed pastures, but had a lower proportional abundance of forbs (P < 0·01) and amounts of forb biomass (P = 0·04). Species of herbivore did not significantly influence above-ground characteristics that were measured. In general, AMF root colonization was relatively small and was not significantly affected by treatment and, accordingly, the variation was insufficient to test its potential as an indicator of grazing effects on vegetation or its potential relationship with pasture reflectance. Multiple regression equations based on individual wavelength reflectance values explained significantly more of the variation in above-ground vegetation characteristics than did simple regressions using vegetation indices as predictor variables (r2 values from 0·36 to 0·46 vs. 0·11 to 0·27) and have the potential to predict above-ground vegetation characteristics in heterogeneous rangelands.