, Volume 106, Issue 1, pp 37-62

Plant morphology and grazing history:

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Abstract

Grazing-related, intraspecific, morphological variation was studied in four North American grasses (Bouteloua gracilis, Agropyron smithii, Schizachyrium scoparium, and Andropogon gerardii) from eight locales in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota: three locales currently occupied and heavily grazed by prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus), colonized (since settlement) for 2–100 years, where native ungulates concentrate grazing activities; an extinct colony locale from which prairie dogs were removed 30 years previously, moderately to lightly grazed by ungulates; two noncolony locales, moderately to lightly grazed by ungulates; and two locales from within a 50-year-old grazing exclosure, with no known history of grazing by prairie dogs nor any recent grazing by ungulates. Data were collected both in situ and in common environments.

Active-colony plants were more frequently and more heavily grazed than those at other grazed locales. In situ, plants from heavily grazed populations were smaller and more prostrate than those from populations with little or no grazing (including the extinct colony) and interpopulation variation corresponded to current grazer use. After several growing seasons in common environments, there were still significant interpopulation differences; however, variation often corresponded with grazing history. Although differences between active-colony and noncolony plants were somewhat reduced (indicating some phenotypic plasticity), active-colony plants were still smaller and more prostrate. However, extinct-colony plants more closely resembled active-colony plants than noncolony plants. Morphological variation among these populations is the result of more than simple grazer use; historical factors and the dynamic nature of the grazing regimes are also contributing factors.