2022 article

Vegetation structure and food availability following disturbance in recently restored early successional plant communities

Powell, B. L., Buehler, D. A., Moorman, C. E., Zobel, J. M., & Harper, C. A. (2022, October 17). WILDLIFE SOCIETY BULLETIN.

By: B. Powell*, D. Buehler*, C. Moorman, J. Zobel* & C. Harper

author keywords: burning; early succession; mowing; native plant restoration; northern bobwhite; seedbank response; white-tailed deer; wild turkey
Source: Web Of Science
Added: October 31, 2022

Fields dominated by nonnative grasses, such as tall fescue (Schedonorus arundinaceus), are being restored to native plant communities across the eastern U.S. Upon restoration, disturbance is necessary to maintain native communities in an early seral stage, and plant response to different management practices is of interest to managers to guide habitat enhancement for various wildlife species. We evaluated effects of burning and mowing following restoration of native plant communities via 2 methods (planting native grasses and forbs and seedbank response without planting), across 11 replicated sites in Tennessee and Alabama, 2019–2020. We compared vegetation composition and structure, openness at ground level, forage availability, and nutritional carrying capacity (NCC) following 4 treatments (Seedbank Burned, Seedbank Mowed, Planted Burned, Planted Mowed, and tall fescue Control), and we related these measurements to the food and cover requirements for 3 popular game species: white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), and northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus). The combination of planting and mowing increased grass coverage, whereas units that were established via seedbank response and managed by burning had greater forb coverage. Visual obstruction above 25 cm was greater in all treatments than Control, which provided cover that has been described as selected nesting cover by wild turkey and bedding cover for deer. Openness at ground level, which is especially important for bobwhite and wild turkey broods, was 30% greater in Seedbank Burned than Planted Mowed where we recorded the least openness among treatments by the second year of treatment. Similarly, coverage of bobwhite food and deer forage plant species was greatest in Seedbank Burned. Biomass (kg/ha) of plant species known to be selected as forage by deer was greater in all treatments than in Control, and NCC (deer days/ha) was greatest in Seedbank Burned by year 2. Our results highlight differences in plant composition and structure following management of early successional communities. Where possible, we encourage managers to use fire instead of mowing to maintain plant communities, especially if food plants and enhanced structure at multiple levels for bobwhite, wild turkey, and deer are management objectives. Furthermore, our results illustrate planting native grasses and forbs is not necessary to restore native early successional plant communities on most sites.