Exotic-dominated grasslands show signs of recovery with cattle grazing and fire

John T. Delaney, Raymond A. Moranz, Diane M. Debinski, David M. Engle, James R. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In grasslands, overgrazing by domestic livestock, fertilization, and introduction of exotic forage species leads to plant communities consisting of a mixture of native and exotic species. These degraded grasslands present a problem for land managers, farmers, and restoration ecologists concerned with improving biodiversity while continuing to use the land for livestock production. Here we assessed the response of butterfly and plant community composition to the use of fire and moderate grazing by domestic cattle on degraded grasslands dominated by exotic plants. We evaluated change by comparing experimental pastures to two reference sites that were grasslands dominated by native plants. We used two burning and grazing treatments: 1) patch-burn graze, a heterogeneously managed treatment, where one third of the pasture is burned each year and cattle have free access to the entire pasture, and 2) graze-and-burn, a homogenously managed treatment, where the entire pasture is grazed each year and burned in its entirety every three years. We tested for change in the butterfly and plant community composition over seven years using Bray-Curtis dissimilarity measures. Over the course of seven years, degraded pastures in both treatments became more similar to reference sites with respect to the butterfly and plant communities. Only two butterfly species and two plant functional guilds exhibited significant linear trends over time, with varying responses. Compositional changes in both the butterfly and plant communities indicate that the use of moderate grazing and fire may shift butterfly and plant communities of exotic-dominated grasslands to be more similar to reference tallgrass prairies over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0165758
JournalPloS one
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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