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Ecology. 2006 Aug;87(8):2058-67.

Scale-dependent interaction of fire and grazing on community heterogeneity in tallgrass prairie.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Castetter Hall, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87131, USA.


Natural disturbances affect spatial and temporal heterogeneity in plant communities, but effects vary depending on type of disturbance and scale of analysis. In this study, we examined the effects of fire frequency (1-, 4-, and 20-yr intervals) and grazing by bison on spatial and temporal heterogeneity in species composition in tallgrass prairie plant communities. Compositional heterogeneity was estimated at 10-, 50-, and 200-m2 scales. For each measurement scale, we used the average Euclidean Distance (ED) between samples within a year (2000) to measure spatial heterogeneity and between all time steps (1993-2000) for each sample to measure temporal heterogeneity. The main effects of fire and grazing were scale independent. Spatial and temporal heterogeneity were lowest on annually burned sites and highest on infrequently burned (20-yr) sites at all scales. Grazing reduced spatial heterogeneity and increased temporal heterogeneity at all scales. The rate of community change over time decreased as fire frequency increased at all scales, whereas grazing had no effect on rate of community change over time at any spatial scale. The interactive effects of fire and grazing on spatial and temporal heterogeneity differed with scale. At the 10-m2 scale, grazing increased spatial heterogeneity in annually burned grassland but decreased heterogeneity in less frequently burned areas. At the 50-m2 scale, grazing decreased spatial heterogeneity on 4-yr burns but had no effect at other fire frequencies. At the 10-m scale, grazing increased temporal heterogeneity only on 1- and 20-yr burn sites. Our results show that the individual effects of fire and grazing on spatial and temporal heterogeneity in mesic prairie are scale independent, but the interactive effects of these disturbances on community heterogeneity change with scale of measurement. These patterns reflect the homogenizing impact of fire at all spatial scales, and the different frequency, intensity, and scale of patch grazing by bison in frequently burned vs. infrequently burned areas.

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