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Fifty years of prairie fire – a case study from Iowa

Small, isolated prairie remnants often show a decline in native species over time, and their sustainability is questioned. Given the rarity of tallgrass prairie in the upper Midwest, it is important to monitor changes over time to determine the long term impacts of land management.

This case study sought to document changes in the vegetation at Kalsow Prairie, one of the largest virgin prairies remaining in Iowa. Management at Kalsow, prior to 1950, was predominantly annual summer mowing, after 1950 management was gradually shifted to spring burning.

Implications for managers:

  • Managing the same way over time (e.g., burning in the spring every 2 years) may not maximize biodiversity of the plant community due to the strong selection pressure.
  • Larger isolated prairie sites may be less prone to establishment of non-native species when managed with fire
  • Prescribed fire may stabilize prairie communities, and keep non-native species from establishing

For further summary of the study's results and implications for management, view or download a PDF version of the research brief: "Fifty years of prairie fire – a case study from Iowa."

The original paper is:


Dornbush, Mathew E. 2004 Plant community changes following fifty-years of management at Kalsow Prairie Preserve, Iowa, U.S.A. American Midland Naturalist 151:241-250.

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