Plant Ecology

, Volume 155, Issue 1, pp 99–109 | Cite as

Vegetation responses to different spatial patterns of soil disturbance in burned and unburned tallgrass prairie

  • William E. Rogers
  • David C. Hartnett


Pocket gopher (Geomyidae) disturbances are created in spatiallypredictable patterns. This may influence resource heterogeneity and affectgrassland vegetation in a unique manner. We attempt to determine the extent towhich density and spatial pattern of soil disturbances influence tallgrassprairie plant community structure and determine how these disturbances interactwith fire. To investigate the effects of explicit disturbance patterns we createdsimulated pocket gopher burrows and mounds in various spatial patterns.Simulated burrows were drilled into the soil at different densities inreplicated plots of burned and unburned prairie. Separate plots of simulatedmounds were created in burned and unburned prairie at low, medium, or high mounddensities in clumped, uniform, or random spatial dispersions. In both burned and unburned plots, increased burrow density decreasedgraminoid biomass and increased forb biomass. Total-plant and graminoid biomasswere higher in burned than unburned plots while forb biomass was higher inunburned plots. Total-plant species richness was not significantly affected byburrow density or burning treatments, but graminoid species richness increasedin unburned plots and forb species richness increased in burned plots. Plant species richness was temporarily reduced directly on mounddisturbances compared to undisturbed prairie. Over time and at larger samplingscales, the interaction of fire and mound disturbance patterns significantlyaffected total-plant and graminoid species richness. The principal effect inburned and unburned prairie was decreased total-plant and graminoid speciesrichness with increased mound disturbance intensity. Although species richness at small patch scales was not increased by anyintensity of disturbance and species composition was not altered by theestablishment of a unique guild of disturbance colonizing plants, our studyrevealed that interactions between soil disturbances and fire alter the plantcommunity dominance structure of North American tallgrass prairie primarily viachanges to graminoids. Moreover, these effects become increasingly pronouncedover time and at larger spatial sampling scales.

Disturbance interactions Functional groups Grassland dynamics Plant community structure Simulated pocket gopher mounds and burrows 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Andersen D.C. 1987. Geomys bursarius burrowing patterns: influence of season and food patch structure. Ecology 68: 1306–1318.Google Scholar
  2. Bazzaz F.A. 1996. Plants in changing environments. Cambridge University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  3. Benedix J.H. 1993. Area-restricted search by the plains pocket gopher (Geomys bursarius) in tallgrass prairie habitat. Behavioral Ecology 4: 318–324.Google Scholar
  4. Carson W.P. and Pickett S.T.A. 1990. Role of resources and disturbance in the organization of an old-field plant community. Ecology 71: 226–238.Google Scholar
  5. Chesson P.L. 1986. Environmental variation and the coexistence of species. In: Diamond J. and Case T.J. (eds), Community ecology. Harper and Row, New York, pp. 240–256.Google Scholar
  6. Chesson P.L. and Huntly N. 1997. The roles of harsh and fluctuating conditions in the dynamics of ecological communities. American Naturalist 150: 519–553.Google Scholar
  7. Collins S.L. 1989. Experimental analysis of patch dynamics and community heterogeneity in tallgrass prairie. Vegetatio 85: 57–66.Google Scholar
  8. Collins S.L., Knapp A.K., Briggs J.M., Blair J.M. and Steinauer E.M. 1998. Modulation of diversity by grazing and mowing in native tallgrass prairie. Science 280: 745–747.Google Scholar
  9. Collins S.L. and Gibson D.J. 1990. Effects of fire on community structure in tallgrass and mixed-grass prairie. In: Collins S.L. and Wallace L. L. (eds), Fire in the north American tallgrass prairie. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK, pp. 81–98.Google Scholar
  10. Gibson D.J. 1989. Effects of animal disturbance on tallgrass prairie vegetation. American Midland Naturalist 121: 144–154.Google Scholar
  11. Gibson D.J. and Hulbert L.C. 1987. Effects of fire, topography and year-to-year climatic variation on species composition in tallgrass prairie. Vegetatio 72: 175–185.Google Scholar
  12. Goldberg D.E. and Gross K.L. 1988. Disturbance regimes of midsuccessional old fields. Ecology 69: 1677–1788.Google Scholar
  13. Grubb P.J. 1977. The maintenance of species richness in plant communities: the importance of the regeneration niche. Biological Review 52: 107–145.Google Scholar
  14. Hartnett D.C. 1990. Size-dependent allocation to seed and vegetative reproduction in four clonal composites. Oecologia 84: 254–259.Google Scholar
  15. Hartnett D.C. and Fay P.A. 1998. Plant populations: patterns and processes. In: Knapp A.K., Briggs J.M., Hartnett D.C. and Collins S.L. (eds), Grassland dynamics: long-term ecological research in tallgrass prairie. Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 81–100.Google Scholar
  16. Hill M.O. 1994. DECORANA and TWINSPAN for ordination and classification of multivariate species data. Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, Huntingdon, UK.Google Scholar
  17. Hobbs R.J., Gulmon S.L., Hobbs V.J. and Mooney H.A. 1988. Effects of fertiliser addition and subsequent gopher disturbance on a serpentine annual grassland community. Oecologia 75: 291–295.Google Scholar
  18. Hobbs R.J. and Hobbs V.J. 1987. Gophers and grassland: a model of vegetation response to patchy soil disturbance. Vegetatio 69: 141–146.Google Scholar
  19. Hobbs R.J. and Mooney H.A. 1985. Community and population dynamics of serpentine grassland annuals in relation to gopher disturbance. Oecologia 67: 342–351.Google Scholar
  20. Huntly N. and Inouye R. 1988. Pocket gophers in ecosystems: patterns and mechanisms. BioScience 38: 786–793.Google Scholar
  21. Inouye R.S., Huntly N.J. and Wasley G. 1997. Effects of pocket gophers (Geomys bursarius) on microtopographic variation. Journal of Mammalogy 78: 1144–1148.Google Scholar
  22. Inouye R.S., Huntly N.J., Tilman D. and Tester J.R. 1987. Pocket gophers (Geomys bursarius), vegetation, and soil nitrogen along a successional sere in east central Minnesota. Oecologia 72: 178–184.Google Scholar
  23. Jongman R.H.G., ter Braak C.J.F. and van Tongeren O.F.R. 1995. Data analysis is community and landscape ecology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  24. Klaas B.A., Moloney K.A. and Danielson B.J. 2000. The tempo and mode of gopher mound production in a tallgrass prairie remnant. Ecography 23: 246–256.Google Scholar
  25. Knapp A.K., Briggs J.M., Hartnett D.C. and Collins S.L. (eds) 1998. Grassland dynamics: long-term ecological research in tallgrass prairie. Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  26. Knapp A., Blair J., Briggs J., Collins S., Hartnett D., Johnson L. et al. 1999. The keystone role of bison in north American tallgrass prairie. BioScience 49: 39–50.Google Scholar
  27. Knapp A.K. and Seastedt T.R. 1986. Detritus accumulation limits productivity in tallgrass prairie. BioScience 36: 662–668.Google Scholar
  28. Korner C. 1994. Scaling from species to vegetation: the usefulness of functional groups. In: Schulze E.D. and Mooney H.A. (eds), Biodiversity and ecosystem function. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, pp. 117–142.Google Scholar
  29. Martinsen G.D., Cushman J.H. and Whitham T.G. 1990. Impact of pocket gopher disturbance on plant species diversity in a shortgrass prairie community. Oecologia 83: 132–138.Google Scholar
  30. Moloney K.A. and Levin S.A. 1996. The effects of disturbance architecture on landscape-level population dynamics. Ecology 77: 375–394.Google Scholar
  31. Moloney K.A., Levin S.A., Chiariello N.R. and Buttel L. 1992. Pattern and scale in a serpentine grassland. Theoretical Population Biology 41: 257–276.Google Scholar
  32. Parish R. and Turkington R. 1990. The influence of dung pats and molehills on pasture composition. Canadian Journal of Botany 68: 1698–1705.Google Scholar
  33. Petraitis P.S., Latham R.E. and Niesenbaum R.A. 1989. The maintenance of species diversity by disturbance. Quarterly Review of Biology 64: 393–418.Google Scholar
  34. Platt W.J. 1975. The colonization and formation of equilibrium plant species associations on badger disturbances in a tallgrass prairie. Ecological Monographs 45: 285–305.Google Scholar
  35. Platt W.J. and Weis I.M. 1977. Resource partitioning and competition within a guild of fugitive prairie plants. American Naturalist 111: 479–513.Google Scholar
  36. Rapp J.K. and Rabinowitz D. 1985. Colonization and establishment of Missouri prairie plants on artificial soil disturbances. I. dynamics of forb and graminoid seedlings and shoots. American Journal of Botany 72: 1618–1628.Google Scholar
  37. Reader R.J. and Buck J. 1991. Community response to experimental soil disturbance in a midsuccessional, abandoned pasture. Vegetatio 92: 151–159.Google Scholar
  38. Reichman O.J. and Smith S.C. 1985. Impact of pocket gopher burrows on overlying vegetation. Journal of Mammalogy 66: 720–725.Google Scholar
  39. Reichman O.J., Whitham T.G. and Ruffner G.A. 1982. Adaptive geometry of burrow spacing in two pocket gopher populations. Ecology 63: 687–695.Google Scholar
  40. Rogers W.E. 1998. Effects of Disturbance on Tallgrass prairie. Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS, Ph.D. dissertation.Google Scholar
  41. Rogers W.E., Hartnett D.C. and Elder B. 2001. Effects of plains pocket gopher (Geomys bursarius) disturbances on tallgrassprairie plant community structure. American Midland Naturalist 145: 344–357.Google Scholar
  42. SAS Institute. 1998. StatView of Windows. Version 5.0. SAS Institute Inc., Cary, NC.Google Scholar
  43. Smith T.M., Shugart H.H. and Woodward F.I. (eds) 1997. Plant Functional Types. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  44. Spencer S.R., Cameron G.N., Eshelman B.D., Cooper L.C. and Williams L.R. 1985. Influence of pocket gopher mounds on a Texas coastal prairie. Oecologia 66: 111–115.Google Scholar
  45. Stebbins G.L. 1981. Coevolution of grasses and herbivores. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 68: 75–86.Google Scholar
  46. Stromberg M.R. and Griffin J.R. 1996. Long-term patterns in coastal California grasslands in relation to cultivation, gophers, and grazing. Ecological Applications 6: 1189–1211.Google Scholar
  47. Tilman D. 1983. Plant succession and gopher disturbance along an experimental gradient. Oecologia 60: 285–292.Google Scholar
  48. Umbanhowar C.E. 1995. Revegetation of earthen mounds along a topographic-productivity gradient in a northern mixed prairie. Journal of Vegetation Science 6: 637–646.Google Scholar
  49. Weaver J.E. 1968. Prairie plants and their environments: a fifty year study in the midwest. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE.Google Scholar
  50. Wu J. and Loucks O.L. 1995. From balance of nature to hierarchical pattern dynamics: a paradigm shift in ecology. Quarterly Review of Biology 70: 439–466.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • William E. Rogers
    • 1
    • 2
  • David C. Hartnett
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of BiologyKansas State UniversityManhattanUSA
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyRice UniversityHoustonUSA

Personalised recommendations