, Volume 106, Issue 1, pp 37–62 | Cite as

Plant morphology and grazing history:

Relationships between native grasses and herbivores
  • E. L. Painter
  • J. K. Detling
  • D. A. Steingraeber


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.


Ecotypic differentiation Free-roaming ungulates Interpopulation variation North American native grasses Prairie-dog colonies 


A. gerardii

Andropogon gerardii

A. smithii

Agropyron smithii


Bison Flats colony locale


noncolony locale at Bison Flats

B. gracilis

Bouteloua gracilis


Upper Highland extinct-colony locale


common garden




new satellite colony locale


Pringle Valley colony locale


noncolony locale in Pringle Valley

S. scoparium

Schizachyrium scoparium


Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, USA


exclosure locale just inside exclosure fence from BFN


exclosure locale near headquarters buildings


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Aarssen, L. W. & Turkington, R. 1985. Within species diversity in natrual populations of Holcus lanatus, Lolium perenne and Trifolium repens from four different-aged pastures. J. Ecol. 73: 869–886.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, R. C. 1982. An evolutionary model summarizing the roles of fire, climate, and grazing animals in the origin and maintenance of grasslands: an end paper. In: Estes, J. F., Tyrl, R. J. & Brunken, J. N. (eds). Grasses and grasslands: Systematics and ecology. Univ. Oklahoma Press, Norman.Google Scholar
  3. Arnold, J. F. 1955. Plant life-form classification and its use in evaluating range conditions and trend. J. Range Manage. 8: 175–181.Google Scholar
  4. Bakeless, J. (ed). 1964. The Journals of Lewis and Clark. New American Library, New York.Google Scholar
  5. Blake, A. K. 1935. Viability and germination of seeds and early life history of prairie plants. Ecol. Monogr. 5: 407–460.Google Scholar
  6. Bohi, J. W. 1962. 75 years at Wind Cave: A history of the national park. South Dakota Dep. History Reports & Historical Collections, Vol. 31. State Publ., Pierre.Google Scholar
  7. Bradshaw, A. D. 1965. Evolutionary significance of phenotypic plasticity in plants. Adv. Genetics 4: 115–155.Google Scholar
  8. Branson, F. A. 1953. Two new factors affecting resistance of grasses to grazing. J. Range Manage. 6: 165–171.Google Scholar
  9. Briske, D. D. 1986. Plant response to defoliation: Morphological considerations and allocation priorities. In: Joss, P. J., Lynch, P. W. & Williams, O. B. (eds). Rangelands: A resource under siege. Proc. 2nd Int. Rangel. Congr. Aust. Acad. Sci., Canberra.Google Scholar
  10. Caldwell, M. M. & Richards, J. H. 1986. Competitive position of species in respect to grazing tolerance: Some perspective on ecophysiological processes. In: Joss, P. J., Lynch, P. W. & Williams, O. B. (eds). Rangelands: A resource under siege. Proc. 2nd Int. Rangel. Congr. Aust. Acad. Sci., Canberra.Google Scholar
  11. Carlson, D. C. 1986. Effects of prairie dogs on mound soils, M. S. Thesis. South Dakota State Univ., Brookings.Google Scholar
  12. Carman, J. G. & Briske, D. D. 1985. Morphologic and allozymic variation between long-term grazed and non-grazed populations of the bunchgrass Schizachyrium scoparium var. frequens. Oecologia 66: 332–337.Google Scholar
  13. Caswell, H. 1983. Phenotypic plasticity in life-history traits: Demographic effects and evolutionary consequences. Am. J. Zool. 23: 35–46.Google Scholar
  14. Cid, M. S., Detling, J. K., Brizuela, M. A. & Whicker, A. D. 1989. Patterns in grass silification: Response to grazing history and defoliation. Oecologia 80: 268–271.Google Scholar
  15. Clements, F. E. 1949. Dynamics of vegetation. Allred, B. W. & Clements, E. S. (eds). H. W. Wilson, New York.Google Scholar
  16. Cook, C. W. & Child, R. D. 1971. Recovery of desert plants in various states of vigor. J. Range Manage. 24: 339–343.Google Scholar
  17. Coppock, D. L., Ellis, J. E., Detling, J. K. & Dyer, M. I. 1983. Plant-herbivore interactions in a North American mixedgrass prairie. II. Responses of bison to modification of vegetation by prairie dogs. Oecologia 56: 10–15.Google Scholar
  18. Costello, D. F. 1970. The world of the prairie dog. Lippencott, New York.Google Scholar
  19. Coukos, C. J. 1944. Seed dormancy and germination of some native grasses. J. Am. Soc. Agron. 36: 337–345.Google Scholar
  20. Detling, J. K. & Painter, E. L. 1983. Defoliation responses of western wheatgrass populations with diverse histories of prairie dog grazing. Oecologia 57: 65–71.Google Scholar
  21. Dirzo, R. 1984. Herbivory: A phytocentric overview. In: Dirzo, R. & Sarukhan, J. (eds). Perspectives on plant population ecology. Sinauer Assoc., Sunderland, Massachusetts.Google Scholar
  22. Ellison, L. 1960. The influence of grazing on plant succession. Bot. Rev. 26: 1–78.Google Scholar
  23. Gardner, A. L. & Hunt, I. V. 1963. Inter-varietal competition in perennial ryegrass swards. J. Brit. Grass. Soc. 18: 285–291.Google Scholar
  24. Gregor, J. W. 1956. Adaptation and ecotypic components. Proc. Royal Soc. (B) 145: 333–337.Google Scholar
  25. Grulke, N. E. & Bliss, L. C. 1985. Environmental control of the prostrate growth form in two high arctic grasses. Holarctic Ecol. 8: 204–210.Google Scholar
  26. Harper, J. L. 1978. Plant relations in pastures. In: Wilson, J. R. (ed). Plant relations in pastures. CSIRO, Melbourne.Google Scholar
  27. Heslop-Harrison, J. 1964. Forty years of genecology. Adv. Ecol. Res. 2: 159–247.Google Scholar
  28. Hitchcock, A. S. & Chase, A. 1931. Grass. In: Chase, A., Hitchcock, A. S., Johnston, E. S., Kempton, J. H., Killip, E. P., MacDougal, D. T., Mann, A. & Maxon, W. R. (eds). Old and new plant lore: A symposium. Vol. 11, Smithsonian Sci. Series. Gov. Print. Office, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  29. Ingham, R. E. & Detling, J. K. 1984. Plant-herbivore interactions in a North American mixed-grass prairie. III. Soil nematode populations and root biomass on Cynomys ludovicianus colonies and adjacent uncolonized areas. Oecologia 63: 307–313.Google Scholar
  30. Jaramillo, V. J. & Detling, J. K. 1988. Grazing history, defoliation, and competition: Effects on shortgrass production and nitrogen accumulation. Ecology 69: 1599–1608.Google Scholar
  31. Jefferies, R. L. 1988. Vegetational mosaics, plant-animal interactions and resources for plant growth. In: Gottlieb, L. D. & Jain, S. K. (eds). Plant evolutionary biology. Chapman & Hall, London.Google Scholar
  32. Johnson, L. F. & Curl, E. A. 1972. Methods for research on the ecology of soil-borne plant pathogens. Burgess, Minneapolis.Google Scholar
  33. Kemp, W. B. 1937. Natural selection within plant species exemplified in a permanent pasture. J. Hered. 28: 329–333.Google Scholar
  34. Klukas, R. W. 1988. Management of prairie dog populations in Wind Cave National Park. In: Uresk, D. W., Schenbeck, G. L. & Cefkin, R. (eds). 8th Great Plains wildlife damage control workshop proceedings. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-154. Rocky Mt. For. Range Exp. Stat., Ft. Collins, Colorado.Google Scholar
  35. Koford, C. B. 1958. Prairie dogs, whitefaces, and blue grama. Wildl. Monogr. 3.Google Scholar
  36. Krueger, K. 1986. Feeding relationships among bison, pronghorn, and prairie dogs: An experimental analysis. Ecology 67: 760–770.Google Scholar
  37. Leopold, A. C. 1978. The biological significance of death in plants. In: Behnke, J. A., Finch, C. E. & Moment, G. B. (eds). The biology of aging, Plenum Press, New York.Google Scholar
  38. Ludlow, M. M. 1978. Light relations of pasture plants. In: Wilson, J. R. (ed). Plant relations in pastures. CSIRO, Melbourne.Google Scholar
  39. Marshall, D. L., Levin, D. A. & Fowler, N. L. 1986. Plasticity of yield components in response to stress in Sesbainia macrocarpa and Sesbania vesicaria Leguminosae). Am. Nat. 127: 508–521.Google Scholar
  40. McMillan, C. 1960. Ecotypes and community function. Am. Nat. 94: 245–255.Google Scholar
  41. McMillan, C. 1969. Ecotypes and ecosystem function. Bio-Science. 19: 131–134.Google Scholar
  42. Nicholls, M. K. & McNeilly, T. 1982. The performance of Agrostis capillaris L. genotypes, differing in copper tolerance, in ryegrass swards on normal soil. New Phytol. 101: 207–217.Google Scholar
  43. Noble, J. C. 1986. Plant population ecology and clonal growth in arid rangeland ecosystems. In: Joss, P. J., Lynch, P. W. & Williams, O. B. (eds). Rangelands: A resource under siege. Proc. 2nd Int. Rangel. Congr. Aust. Acad. Sci., Canberra.Google Scholar
  44. Painter, E. L. 1987. Grazing and intraspecific variation in four North American grass species. Ph.D. Diss. Colorado State Univ., Ft. Collins.Google Scholar
  45. Painter, E. L., Detling, J. K. & Steingraeber, D. A. 1989. Effects of grazing history, defoliation, and frequency-dependent competition on two North American grasses. Am. J. Bot. 76: 1368–1380.Google Scholar
  46. Palmer, J. H. 1956. The nature of the growth responses to sunlight shown by certain stoloniferous and prostrate tropical plants. New Phytol. 55: 246–355.Google Scholar
  47. Peterson, R. A. 1962. Factors affecting resistance to heavy grazing in needle-and-thread grass. J. Range Manage. 15: 183–189.Google Scholar
  48. Polley, H. W. & Detling, J. K. 1988. Herbivory tolerance of Agropyron smithii population with different grazing histories. Oecologia 77: 261–267.Google Scholar
  49. Pond, F. W. 1960. Vigor or Idaho fescue in relation to different grazing intensities. J. Range Manage. 13: 28–30.Google Scholar
  50. Popp, J. 1981. Range ecology of bison on mixed grass prairie at Wind Cave National Park. M. S. Thesis. Iowa State Univ., Ames.Google Scholar
  51. Quinn, J. A. & Miller, R. V. 1967. A biotic selection study utilizing Muhlenbergia montana. Bull. Torrey Bot. Club 94: 423–432.Google Scholar
  52. Quinn, J. A. & Ward, R. T. 1969. Ecological differentiation in sand dropseed (Sporobolus cryptandrus). Ecol. Monogr. 39: 61–78.Google Scholar
  53. Robatnov, T. A. 1985. Dynamics of plant coenotic populations. In: White, J. (ed). The population structure of vegetation. Junk, Dordrecht.Google Scholar
  54. Rechenthin, C. A. 1956. Elementary morphology of grass growth and how it affects utilization. J. Range Manage. 9: 167–170.Google Scholar
  55. Rhodes, I. & Stern, W. R. 1978. Competition for light. In: Wilson, J. R. (ed). Plant relations in pastures. CSIRO, Melbourne.Google Scholar
  56. Schlichting, C. D. 1986. The evolution of phenotypic plasticity in plants. Ann. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 17: 667–693.Google Scholar
  57. Schlichting, C. D. & Levin, D. A. 1984. Phenotypic plasticity of annual phlox: Tests of some hypotheses. Am. J. Bot. 7: 252–260.Google Scholar
  58. Sharps, J. C. & Uresk, D. W. 1990. Ecological review of black-tailed prairie dogs and associated species in western South Dakota. Great Basin Nat. 50: 339–345.Google Scholar
  59. Snaydon, R. W. 1978. Genetic changes in pasture populations. In: Wilson, J. R. (ed). Plant relations in pastures. CSIRO, Melbourne.Google Scholar
  60. Snaydon, R. W. 1985. Aspects of the ecological genetics of pasture species. In: Haeck, J. H. & woldendorp, J. W. (eds). Structure and functioning of plant populations. North-Holland, Amsterdam.Google Scholar
  61. Snell, G. P. & Hlavachick, B. D. 1980. Control of prairie dogs --the easy way. Rangelands 2: 239–240.Google Scholar
  62. Spaulding, M. H. 1912. The control of prairie dogs and ground squirrels. Montana Agric. Coll. Exp. Stat. Circular 20. Bozeman.Google Scholar
  63. SPSSx user's guide, 2nd ed. 1986 SPSS, Inc., Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
  64. Swenk, M. H. 1915. The prairie dog and its control. Nebraska Agric. Exp. Stat., Bull. 154. Univ. Nebraska, Lincoln.Google Scholar
  65. U. S. Dep. Agriculture, Soil Cons. Serv. 1969. Conservation plant for Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, Gov. Print. Office, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  66. Van, Andel, J. & Ernst, W. H. O. 1985. Ecophysiological adaptation, plastic responses, and genetic variation of annuals, biennials, and perennials in woodland clearings. In: Haeck, J. & Woldendorp, J. W. (eds). Structure and functioning of plant populations. North-Holland, Amsterdam.Google Scholar
  67. Varland, K. L., Lovaas, A. L. & Dahlgren, R. B. 1978. Herd organization and movement of elk in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota. U.S.D.I., Nat. Park Serv., Nat. Resources Rep. 13, Gov. Print. Office, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  68. Wallace, L. L. 1981. Growth, Morphology and gas exchange of mycorrhizal and nonmycorrizal Panicum coloratum L., a C4 grass species, under differing clipping and fertilization regimes. Oecologia 49: 272–278.Google Scholar
  69. Weaver, J. E. 1954. North American prairie. Johnson Publ., Lincoln, NE.Google Scholar
  70. Weaver, J. E. & Albertson, F. W. 1943. Resurvey of grasses, forbs, and underground parts at the end of the great drought. Ecol. Monogr. 13: 64–117.Google Scholar
  71. Weaver, J. E. & Albertson, F. W. 1944. Nature and degree of recovery of grassland from the great drought of 1933 to 1940. Ecol. Monogr. 14: 394–479.Google Scholar
  72. Weaver, J. E. & Albertson, F. W. 1956. Grasslands of the Great Plains, Johnson Publ., Lincoln, Nebraska.Google Scholar
  73. Weaver, J. E. & Darland, R. W. 1947. A method for measuring vigor in range grasses. Ecology 28: 146–164.Google Scholar
  74. Weaver, J. E. 1985. Phenotypic variation and implications for reproductive success. In: Haeck, J. & Woldendorp, J. W. (eds). Structure and functioning of plant populations. North-Holland, Amsterdam.Google Scholar
  75. Whicker, A. D. & Detling, J. K. 1988a. Ecological consequences of prairie dog disturbances. BioScience 38: 778–785.Google Scholar
  76. Whicker, A. D. & Detling, J. K. 1988b. Modification of vegetation structure and ecosystem processes by North American grassland mammals. In: Werger, M. J. A., During, H. J. & Van Der, Aart, P. J. M. (eds). Plant form and vegetation structure. S.P.B. Academic Publ., The Hague.Google Scholar
  77. White, E. M. 1985. Antiquity, original size and location of prairie dog towns in Wind Cave National Park. Final report for Contract CX1200–4-AO40, Nat. Park Serv., Wind Cave National Park, Hot Springs, South Dakota.Google Scholar
  78. White, E. M. 1986. Changes in prairie dog mound soil properties with increasing age. Final report for Contract PX1560–5–0117. Wind Cave National Park, Hot Springs, South Dakota.Google Scholar
  79. Wilken, D. H. 1978. Vegetative and floral relationships among western North American populations of Collomia linearis Nuttall (Polemoniaceae). Am. J. Bot. 65: 896–901.Google Scholar
  80. Williams, T. A. 1897. Grasses and forage plants of the Dakotas. USDA, Div. Agristology, Bull. 6, Gov. Print. Office, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  81. Wilson, A. M. & Briske, D. D. 1979. Seminal and aventitious root growth of blue grama seedlings on the Great Plains. J. Range Manage. 32: 209–213.Google Scholar
  82. Wydeven, A. P. 1979. Food habits and ecological relationships of elk to other herbivores in Wind Cave National Park. M. S. Thesis, Iowa State Univ., Ames.Google Scholar
  83. Wydeven, A. P. & Dahlgren, R. B. 1985. Ungulate habitat relationships in Wind Cave National Park. J. Wildl. Manage. 49: 805–813.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. L. Painter
    • 1
  • J. K. Detling
    • 1
    • 2
  • D. A. Steingraeber
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.Natural Resource Ecology LaboratoryColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

Personalised recommendations