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Plant and Soil

, Volume 411, Issue 1–2, pp 423–436 | Cite as

Grazing by bison is a stronger driver of plant ecohydrology in tallgrass prairie than fire history

  • Kimberly O’KeefeEmail author
  • Jesse B. Nippert
Regular Article

Abstract

Background and Aims

Fire and grazing are important disturbances in grasslands, yet we know little about how they impact a variety of plant physiological processes such as plant ecohydrology. Here, we assessed the impact of fire history and grazing by Bison bison on the source of water uptake and niche overlap in common grassland species at the Konza Prairie Biological Station, a temperate mesic grassland located in northeastern Kansas, USA.

Methods

We used the stable isotopic signature of soil and xylem water to evaluate water uptake in Andropogon gerardii, Vernonia baldwinii, Amorpha canescens, and Rhus glabra within varying grazing (grazed, ungrazed), fire (0,1,2 or 3 years since last burn), topography (upland, lowland), and month (July, August) contrasts over 3 years (2013–2015).

Results

The presence of grazers, not fire history, altered water uptake patterns in these common grassland species. Particularly, grazing increased the proportion of shallow water utilized by A. gerardii and R. glabra, reducing niche overlap with other co-occurring species. However, these responses varied intra-annually and were often modulated by topography.

Conclusions

These results suggest that grazing can alter aspects of grassland ecohydrology at small scales, which may extend to impact community and ecosystem processes at larger spatial scales.

Keywords

Fire Herbivory Stable isotopes Source water Niche overlap Mesic grassland 

Notes

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Braden Hoch, Andy Muench, Rachel Keen, Ben Ketter, Patrick O’Neal, Lindsey Swartz, Jeff Taylor, and Josh Taylor for their help with sample collection and data processing. We also thank Tony Joern for helpful comments on the manuscript. Funding was provided for K. O’Keefe by the Kansas State University NSF GK-12 program (Grant #NSF DGE-0841414) and a Prairie Biotic Research Small Grant. Funding for both K. O’Keefe and J. Nippert was provided by the Konza Prairie LTER program (NSF DEB-1440484).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11104_2016_3048_MOESM1_ESM.docx (332 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 331 kb)

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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of BiologyKansas State UniversityManhattanUSA

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