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Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Virginia D. Preiss; Carissa L. Wonkka; Devan A. McGranahan; Alexandra G. Lodge; Matthew B. Dickinson; Kathleen L. Kavanagh; Heath D. Starns; Doug R. Tolleson; Morgan L. Treadwell; Dirac Twidwell; William E. Rogers
Publication Date: 2023

Questions: Fire regime alterations are pushing open ecosystems worldwide past tipping points where alternative steady states characterized by woody dominance prevail. This reduces the frequency and intensity of surface fires, further limiting their effectiveness for controlling cover of woody plants. In addition, grazing pressure (exotic or native grazers) can reinforce woody encroachment by potentially reducing fine-fuel loads. We investigated the effects of different fire energies on the herbaceous plant community, together with mammalian wildlife herbivory (exotic and native combined) exclusion, to inform best management practices.

Location: Texas semi-arid savanna, southern Great Plains, USA.

Methods: We conducted an experiment in which we manipulated fire intensity and herbivore access to herbaceous biomass in a split-plot design. We altered fire energy via fuel addition rather than applying fire under different environmental conditions to control for differences in standing biomass and composition attributable to differential plant physiological status and fire season.

Results: High-energy fire did not reduce herbaceous biomass or alter plant community composition, although it did increase among-plot variability in composition and forb biomass relative to low-energy fire and non-burned controls. Grazing pressure from native and non-native mammalian herbivores reduced above-ground herbaceous biomass regardless of fire treatments, but did not alter community composition.

Conclusions: Managers seeking to apply high-intensity prescribed fire to reduce woody encroachment will not negatively impact herbaceous plant productivity or alter community composition. However, they should be cognizant that repeated fires necessary for greatly reducing woody plants in heavily invaded areas might be difficult to accomplish due to fine-fuel reduction from wild herbivores. High fencing to restrict access by wildlife herbivores or culling might be necessary to build fuels sufficient to conduct high-intensity burns for woody-plant reduction.

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Citation: Preiss, Virginia D.; Wonkka, Carissa L.; McGranahan, Devan A.; Lodge, Alexandra G.; Dickinson, Matthew B.; Kavanagh, Kathleen L.; Starns, Heath D.; Tolleson, Douglas R.; Treadwell, Morgan L.; Twidwell, Dirac; Rogers, William E. 2023. Exotic herbivores and fire energy drive standing herbaceous biomass but do not alter compositional patterns in a semiarid savanna ecosystem. Applied Vegetation Science 26(4):e12749.

Cataloging Information

  • Axis axis
  • deer
  • extreme fire
  • fire intensity
  • grassland community composition
  • herbaceous biomass
  • herbivores
  • pyric herbivory
  • semi-arid rangeland
  • Texas
  • white-tailed deer
  • woody encroachment
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Record Maintained By: FRAMES Staff (
FRAMES Record Number: 68807