Restoration of Native Warm Season Grassland Species in a Tall Fescue Pasture Using Prescribed Fire and Herbicides

Authors

  • Sarah L. Hall,

    Corresponding author
    1. Community Research Service, Kentucky State University, Atwood Research Facility, 400 E. Main Street, Frankfort, KY 40601, U.S.A.
    2. Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, University of Kentucky, N-222D Ag Science Center North, Lexington, KY 40546-0091, U.S.A.
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  • Rebecca L. McCulley,

    1. Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, University of Kentucky, N-222D Ag Science Center North, Lexington, KY 40546-0091, U.S.A.
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  • Robert J. Barney

    1. Community Research Service, Kentucky State University, Atwood Research Facility, 400 E. Main Street, Frankfort, KY 40601, U.S.A.
    2. Present address: GRDI Land-Grant Institute, West Virginia State University, Institute, WV 25112-1000, U.S.A.
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S. L. Hall, email Sarah.L.Hall@uky.edu

Abstract

Pastures dominated by tall fescue (Schedonorus phoenix (Scop.) Holub) cover much of the eastern United States, and there are increasing efforts to restore native grassland plant species to some of these areas. Prescribed fire and herbicide are frequently used to limit the growth of tall fescue and other non-natives, while encouraging native grasses and forbs. A fungal endophyte, commonly present in tall fescue, can confer competitive advantages to the host plant, and may play a role in determining the ability of tall fescue plants to persist in pastures following restoration practices. We compared vegetation composition among four actively restored subunits of a tall fescue pasture (each receiving different combinations of prescribed fire and/or herbicide) and a control. We also measured the rate of endophyte infection in tall fescue present within each restoration treatment and control to determine if restoration resulted in lower tall fescue cover but higher endophyte infection rates (i.e. selected for endophyte-infected individuals). Tall fescue cover was low in all restoration treatments and the control (1.1–17.9%). The control (unmanaged) had higher species richness than restoration treatments and plant community composition was indicative of succession to forest. Restoration practices resulted in higher cover of native warm season grasses, but in some cases also promoted a different undesirable species. We found no evidence of higher fungal endophyte presence in tall fescue following restoration, as all subunits had low endophyte infection rates (2.2–9.3%). Restoration of tall fescue systems using prescribed fire and herbicide may be used to promote native grassland species.

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