• burning;
  • ecosystem stability;
  • grassland;
  • grazing;
  • Northern Plains;
  • semi-arid

Summary  Since the mid 1990s, there has been a significant increase in the area of semi-arid grasslands included in the National Reserve Systems in the Victorian Riverine Plain. This expansion has not been matched by an improved understanding of the alternate disturbance regimes that might produce better outcomes for native ecosystem conservation. Over the past 150 years, stock grazing has completely replaced fire in these grasslands. As a result, the impact of fire on native (and exotic) plant biodiversity is little understood. This study compared the current grazing regime (i.e. ‘status quo’) with burning and the removal of grazing (‘deferred’ management) across three grasslands in the Victorian Riverine Plain to determine the effects of short-term exposure to alternate disturbances on community structure. Our results showed little change in species density, composition or abundance under the three disturbance treatments. A long exposure to stock grazing may have reduced the abundance of species likely to respond positively to burning. The cover of the biological soil crust responded positively to fire; such changes are known to significantly influence establishment and the functional composition of communities. As such, further investigation of the functional attributes of these communities may broaden our understanding of short-term responses to alternate disturbance events. To better understand the utility of fire as a management tool, a long-term commitment to expanding the implementation of this regime from its current extent will greatly increase the understanding of alternate disturbances in this landscape.