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Restoring biopedturbation in grasslands with anthropogenic focal disturbance

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Grassland ecosystems evolved with natural disturbance events on multiple spatial scales in which focal, fine-scale soil disturbance by animals often was imbedded within large-scale grazing disturbance. The resulting plant communities adapted to both broad-scale and fine-scale disturbance that resulted in species-rich plant communities. These natural disturbance regimes have been largely replaced by anthropogenic disturbance. While we generally understand grassland response to modern grazing practices, we know much less about plant community response to soil disturbance imbedded within non-focal grazing. Therefore, we used a tracked vehicle to focally disturb soil in a North American mesic mixed prairie that was either undisturbed prairie or prairie with a recent history of disturbance from either grazing or haying. Successional trajectory and recovery time following focal soil disturbance was similar between grazed and hayed plant communities. Species composition did not differ (P < 0.05) between grazed or hayed prairie and the respective undisturbed prairie. Plant species richness and bare ground increased (P < 0.05) following focal soil disturbance in both grazed and hayed communities, but focal soil disturbance combined with either grazing or haying did not change either plant species richness or bare ground more than (P > 0.05) focal soil disturbance alone. Also, the effect of focal soil disturbance was shortlived with recovery in two growing seasons. Our results suggest that anthropogenic focal soil disturbance is a reasonable mechanism to restore soil disturbance to the grassland ecosystem.

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This research was funded by the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station and the United States Army Engineer Research and Development Center-Construction Engineering Research Laboratory grant number W9132T-07-P-0095. We thank US Air National Guard, Galen Wiens and numerous technicians for assistance with various aspects of the study.

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Correspondence to Ryan F. Limb.

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Limb, R.F., Engle, D.M., Bidwell, T.G. et al. Restoring biopedturbation in grasslands with anthropogenic focal disturbance. Plant Ecol 210, 331–342 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-010-9760-7

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  • Grazing, hay harvest
  • Resilience, resistance
  • Soil disturbance
  • Successional trajectory
  • Tracked vehicles