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Environ Manage. 2003 Aug;32(2):234-45.

Measuring plant diversity in the tall threetip sagebrush steppe: influence of previous grazing management practices.

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  • 1United States Department of Agriculture-Agriculture Research Service, United States Sheep Experiment Station, HC 62 Box 2010, Dubois, Idaho 83423, USA.


In July 2000, a 490-ha wildfire burned a portion of a long-term grazing study that had been established in 1924 at the US Sheep Experiment Station north of Dubois, Idaho, USA. Earlier vegetation measurements in this tall threetip sagebrush (Artemisia tripartita spp. tripartita) bunchgrass plant community documented significant changes in vegetation due to grazing and the timing of grazing by sheep. A study was initiated in May 2001 using 12 multiscale modified Whittaker plots to determine the consequences of previous grazing practices on postfire vegetation composition. Because there was only one wildfire and it did not burn all of the original plots, the treatments are not replicated in time or space. We reduce the potential effects of psuedoreplication by confining our discussion to the sample area only. There were a total of 84 species in the sampled areas with 69 in the spring-grazed area and 70 each in the fall- and ungrazed areas. Vegetation within plots was equally rich and even with similar numbers of abundant species. The spring-grazed plots, however, had half as much plant cover as the fall- and ungrazed plots and the spring-grazed plots had the largest proportion of plant cover composed of introduced (27%) and annual (34%) plants. The fall-grazed plots had the highest proportion of native perennial grasses (43%) and the lowest proportion of native annual forbs (1%). The ungrazed plots had the lowest proportion of introduced plants (4%) and the highest proportion of native perennial forbs (66%). The vegetation of spring-grazed plots is in a degraded condition for the environment and further degradation may continue, with or without continued grazing or some other disturbance. If ecosystem condition was based solely on plant diversity and only a count of species numbers was used to determine plant diversity, this research would have falsely concluded that grazing and timing of grazing did not impact the condition of the ecosystem.

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