A hierarchical perspective to woody plant encroachment for conservation of prairie-chickens
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Samuel D. Fuhlendorf; Torre J. Hovick; R. Dwayne Elmore; Ashley M. Tanner; David M. Engle; Craig A. Davis
Publication Year: 2017

Cataloging Information

  • conservation
  • disturbance
  • eastern redcedar
  • fire management
  • fire suppression
  • grasslands
  • grazing
  • Great Plains
  • greater prairie-chicken
  • Juniperus virginiana
  • landscape ecology
  • lesser prairie-chicken
  • litter
  • prairie chicken
  • range management
  • rangelands
  • Tympanuchus
  • Tympanuchus cupido
  • Tympanuchus pallidicinctus
  • woody plant encroachment
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: June 1, 2018
FRAMES Record Number: 24058
Tall Timbers Record Number: 33525
TTRS Location Status: In-file
TTRS Call Number: Journals - R
TTRS Abstract Status: Okay, Fair use

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


Encroachment of Great Plains grasslands by fire-sensitive woody plants is a large-scale, regional process that fragments grassland landscapes. Using prairie grouse (Tympanuchus spp.) of conservation concern, we apply hierarchy theory to demonstrate how regional processes constrain lower-level processes and reduce the success of local management. For example, fire and grazing management may be locally important to conservation, but the application of fire and grazing disturbances rarely cause irreversible fragmentation of grasslands in the Great Plains. These disturbance processes cause short-term alterations in vegetation conditions that can be positive or negative, but from a long-term perspective fire maintains large tracts of continuous rangelands by limiting woody plant encroachment. Conservation efforts for prairie grouse should be focused on landscape processes that contribute to landscape fragmentation, such as increased dominance of trees or conversion to other land uses. In fact, reliance on local management (e.g., maintaining vegetation structure) to alter prairie grouse vital rates is less important to grouse population persistence given contemporary landscape level changes. Changing grass height, litter depth, or increasing the cover of forbs may impact a few remaining prairie-chickens, but it will not create useable space at a scale relevant to the historic conditions that existed before land conversion and fire suppression.

Online Link(s):
Fuhlendorf, Samuel D.; Hovick, Torre J.; Elmore, R. Dwayne; Tanner, Ashley M.; Engle, David M.; Davis, Craig A. 2017. A hierarchical perspective to woody plant encroachment for conservation of prairie-chickens. Rangeland Ecology & Management 70(1):9-14.