Season of fire and nutrient enrichment affect plant community dynamics in subtropical semi-natural grasslands released from agriculture



E. H. Boughton; P. J. Bohlen;C. Steele


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Abbreviated Journal Title

Biol. Conserv.


Agriculture; Grazing; Long-term monitoring; Management; Restoration; Split-plot experiment; ECOSYSTEM SERVICES; SPECIES-DIVERSITY; MANAGED GRASSLANDS; TALLGRASS; PRAIRIE; LAND-USE; FLORIDA; CONSERVATION; BIODIVERSITY; LANDSCAPES; PHOSPHORUS; Biodiversity Conservation; Ecology; Environmental Sciences


Semi-natural grasslands have become increasingly important to conservation in both temperate and subtropical regions due to their diversity and escalating pressures toward conversion or abandonment. As more semi-natural grasslands are incorporated into conservation easements or other protected areas, questions arise about appropriate management for maintaining biodiversity. We conducted an 8 year split-plot experiment on the effect of season of burn and nutrient status on plant composition in semi-natural grassland released from ranchland management. Our objective was to find alternative approaches to manage semi-natural grasslands under varying nutrient enrichment when typical ranch management is ceased. We predicted that: (I) burning at high fertility would counteract competitive exclusion and increase diversity and that this increase would be greatest in the historical fire season (summer) to which species are adapted; and (2) that plant composition in plots released from disturbance would shift to greater abundance of competitive species, including shrubs, which would displace smaller grass and forb species and result in reduced diversity. Total species richness and graminoid richness were lowest in unburned, ungrazed plots. Graminoid richness was greatest in winter burned-grazed plots (due mainly to sedges) and forb richness was greatest in summer burn plots. In unburned plots, after 5 years, a native shrub, Eupatorium capillifolium (Lam.) Small, and native forb, Lachnanthes caroliniana (Lam.) Dandy, became abundant and grasses declined. Winter burn plots were dominated by a small shrub, Euthamia graminifolia (L.) Nutt. var. hirtipes (Fernald) C. and J. Taylor. Our experiment suggests that maintaining grassland structure and reducing shrub cover in grasslands released from typical ranchland management in subtropical Florida requires burning, and that summer is the most beneficial season of burn to reduce shrub encroachment and encourage both graminoid and forb richness. (C) 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Journal Title

Biological Conservation



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