Interactive effects of fire and grazing on structure and diversity of Mediterranean grasslands



Abstract. The separate and combined effects of fire and cattle grazing on structure and diversity of productive Mediterranean grasslands in northern Israel were examined within a set of climatically and edaphically similar sites. Cover and height of green and dry plants in winter, and species richness and diversity in spring, were measured in paired transects on both sides of cattle fences, and on both sides of boundaries of both incidental and experimentally lit fires.

Early in the first growing season after a fire, plant cover as well as height of green plants were reduced, compared to unburnt grassland. These structural effects of fire were similar to the effects of grazing, but they were greater in ungrazed than in grazed grasslands, indicating a fire-grazing interaction. The effects of fire were considerably attenuated in the second growing season after the fire.

Species richness and diversity tended to be higher in grazed than in adjacent ungrazed grasslands. Richness consistently increased after a fire only in grazed grasslands with a strong perennial component. In ungrazed grasslands, and in predominantly annual grasslands, fires reduced species richness and diversity at least as often as they increased it.

Fire and grazing should be regarded as two agents with distinct and interactive effects on the community, rather than as two alternative mechanisms of a general disturbance factor.