Faculty Publications

Establishing Tallgrass Prairie On Grazed Permanent Pasture In The Upper Midwest

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Restoration Ecology





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The goal of the study was to learn whether native prairie grasses and, eventually, a diverse mixture of native forbs could be incorporated in permanent pastures by means of rotational grazing by cattle. An experiment was established on a farm in northeastern Iowa on a pasture that had never been plowed but had been grazed since the 1880s. One treatment was protected from grazing to test for the presence of remnant vegetation. Andropogon gerardii, Sorghastrum nutans, Panicum virgatum, and Desmanthus illinoensis were introduced in plots first treated with glyphosate; seeds were either drilled (DR) or hand-broadcast and incorporated by controlled cattle trampling (BT). Seedling establishment and aboveground biomass were followed over 3 years. There was no evidence for remnant native plants on uplands, but seven species of native forbs and four native graminoids flowered in exclosures erected within waterways. D. illinoensis initially established up to 12 seedlings/m2 but had disappeared from all but one plot by the third year. Variation in native grass establishment among replicate plots within treatments was very high, ranging initially from 0.2 to 9.9 plants/m2. In August of the second year, native grasses made up only 8% of the available forage in DR plots and 1% of BT plots. One year later, however, native grasses made up 56% of the available forage in DR plots and 37% of BT plots, and these differences were significant (p = 0.05). A pilot study seeded in late winter (frost seeding) suggested that seeds spread after cattle trampling produced five times more seedlings (2.5/m2) than seeds spread before cattle trampling (0.5/m2). Frost seeding had advantages because it did not require herbicide for sod suppression or tractor access to the site. New plantings could be safely grazed in early spring and late fall, before and after most native grass growth, to offset the negative economic impact of protecting new plantings from burning during the growing season. But this practice precluded subsequent prescribed burning. I propose a strategy for incorporating native wildflowers into the pasture over time with minimum cost.


Department of Biology

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