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Providing evidence to improve practice

Individual study: Soil quality response of re-established tall grasslands to mowing and burning at University of Nebraska Agricultural Research and Development Center, and Allwine Prairie Preserve, Nebraska, USA

Published source details

Schacht W.H., Stubbendieck J., Bragg T.B., Smart A.J. & Doran J.W. (1996) Soil quality response of reestablished grasslands to mowing and burning. Journal of Range Management, 49, 458-463


Prescribed burning and mowing are commonly used to manage North American grasslands, but there is limited knowledge of effects on soil quality. The influences of mowing and burning on soil were assessed at two re-established upland tallgrass sites (seeded with native grasses) in eastern Nebraska (central USA) on silty clay loam soils.

Both sites at the time of study were dominated by a mix of warm- and cool-season grasses. Burn and mowing treatments were applied to grassland at University of Nebraska Agricultural Research and Development Center (Site 1) commencing October 1981. This site had been re-seeded with native grasses in the late 1960s. The area was divided into three blocks. Within each block, 13, 0.l ha plots were randomly allocated to one of 13 mowing and/or burning treatments. Only burn treatments were applied at Allwine Prairie Preserve (Site 2; seeded in 1970), commencing October 1979.
Burn treatments included seasonal (i.e.) May, July or October prescribed burning at either 1-year or 4-year intervals. Mow treatments included seasonal mowing at 4-year intervals.
Soil measurements (infiltration rate, soil bulk density, soil nitrogen content, electrical conductivity, organic matter content, pH) were made at both sites in summer 1994.

Season of application of mowing or burning treatments did not significantly affect soil measurements.
Infiltration rates at Site 1 for the mow and annual burn treatments were slower than for the control, but similar for the 4-year burn treatments and the control. At Site 2, the 1-year and 4-year burn treatments had similar infiltration rates, which were slower than the control. Overall, the results indicate that repeated burning or mowing can detrimentally impact infiltration rates on these silty clay loam sites
Compared to controls, neither annual burning nor burning on a 4-year interval affected the chemical properties measured. Generally, soil bulk density, pH, conductivity, total nitrogen content, and organic matter content were similar for all treatments. Any changes in physical properties in response to burning were minor or short-lived. 


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