Grazing management has focused largely on promoting vegetation homogeneity through uniform distribution of grazing to minimize area in a pasture that is either heavily disturbed or undisturbed. An alternative management model that couples grazing and fire (i.e., patch burning) to promote heterogeneity argues that grazing and fire interact through a series of positive and negative feedbacks to cause a shifting mosaic of vegetation composition and structure across the landscape. We compared patch burning with traditional homogeneity-based management in tallgrass prairie to determine the influence of the two treatments on the aboveground invertebrate community. Patch burning resulted in a temporal flush of invertebrate biomass in patches transitional between unburned and patches burned in the current year. Total invertebrate mass was about 50% greater in these transitional patches within patch-burned pastures as compared to pastures under traditional, homogeneity-based management. Moreover, the mosaic of patches in patch-burned pastures contained a wider range of invertebrate biomass and greater abundance of some invertebrate orders than did the traditionally managed pastures. Patch burning provides habitat that meets requirements for a broad range of invertebrate species, suggesting the potential for patch burning to benefit other native animal assemblages in the food chain.
Additional publication details
Invertebrate community response to a shifting mosaic of habitat