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Prairie Burn Management and Native Species Diversity

The varying effects of fire frequency on native prairies continues to be the subject of study and interest among restorationists and ecologists in the Upper Midwest. This study, in prairie remnants in the eastern tallgrass prairie region, took a close look at species composition changes over five decades.

Among several crucial findings, the authors cautioned against site monitoring protocols based on plant species diversity, which in this resurvey remained stable--despite the clear shift toward common species and away from conservative specialist species.

Management Implications

  • Continue to burn remnants. A burn regime of 4-17 fires in 20 years had the greatest influence on keeping species composition similar to 1950.
  • Put monitoring emphasis on rare species rather than species diversity, as diversity does not always indicate a decrease in rare species.
  • Managers may not need to go to great effort to remove all woody species. The most stable prairies had less than 50% canopy cover.

For a summary of the study's results and implications for management, you can view or download a PDF version of "Prairie Burn Management and Native Species Diversity."

This research brief for research managers summarizes the following peer-reviewed publication:

Milbauer, M. L., and M. K. Leach. 2007. Influence of species pool, fire history, and woody canopy on plant species density and composition in tallgrass prairie. J. Torrey Bot. Soc. 134: 53–62. 2007.


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