Patch-Burn Grazing Effects on the Ecological Integrity of Tallgrass Prairie Streams

Karen E. Jackson, Matt R. Whiles, Walter K. Dodds, John D. Reeve, Jodi M. Vandermyde, Heidi M. Rantala

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Conversion to agriculture, habitat fragmentation, and the loss of native grazers have made tallgrass prairie one of the most endangered ecosystems. One management option for the remaining prairie parcels, patch-burn grazing (PBG), applies a controlled burn to a portion of the prairie to attract cattle, creating a mosaic of more- and less-grazed patches. Although beneficial to cattle and grassland birds, the potential impacts of PBG on streams have not been studied, and a holistic approach is needed to ensure against adverse effects. We used a Before-After-Control-Impact design to assess potential impacts of PBG with and without riparian protection on tallgrass prairie headwater streams. We sampled stream macroinvertebrates and benthic organic matter 2 yr before and 2 yr during PBG treatments on two grazed watersheds with riparian fencing (fenced), two unfenced grazed watersheds (unfenced), and two ungrazed (control) watersheds. Very fine benthic organic matter increased significantly (51%) in unfenced streams compared with controls (p < 0.007), and fine particulate organic matter (<1 mm and >250 μm) increased 3-fold in the unfenced streams compared with controls (p = 0.008). The contribution of fine inorganic sediments to total substrata increased 28% in unfenced streams during PBG, which was significantly different from controls (p = 0.03). Additionally, the abundance of Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera taxa decreased from 7635 to 687 individuals m-2 in unfenced streams, which was significantly lower than in control streams (p = 0.008). Our results indicate that PBG adversely influences prairie streams through sediment inputs and reductions in sensitive invertebrate taxa, but riparian fencing can alleviate these impacts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1148-1159
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2015


  • INHS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Environmental Engineering


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