North American prairie ecosystems evolved in the context of both fire and grazing. In recent efforts to restore the fire-grazing interaction to these grasslands, fire is applied to discrete portions of the landscape and grazers focus their activities on recently burned patches while avoiding unburned areas. This approach is termed “patch-burn grazing.” The scale of forage selection is altered from individual plant species to entire patches and the interaction increases biodiversity and limits the spread of exotic, invasive forage species and woody encroachment. Our goal is to test the use of patch-burn grazing and compare this to traditional grazing or the use of fire without grazing. We focus on plant-herbivore interactions and the disturbance patterns created by the fire-grazing interaction that alters livestock selectivity and competitive relationships among plants. We will examine the responses of insects and songbirds to these different management approaches. We will also work with local landowners to examine their perspectives on the use of fire and grazing as management tools in Iowa grasslands and Oak Savannas.
Conservation benefits will include restoration of the biodiversity native to the Prairie Peninsula, including viable populations of obligate prairie plants, insects, and vertebrates. Specifically, we are monitoring the response of native plants, butterflies, arthropods, and songbirds.