Index of Species Information

SPECIES:  Andropogon gerardii

Introductory

SPECIES: Andropogon gerardii
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Uchytil, Ronald J. 1988. Andropogon gerardii. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ [].
ABBREVIATION : ANDGER SYNONYMS : Andropogon gerardii Vitman var. gerardii [44,63,137] SCS PLANT CODE : ANGE COMMON NAMES : big bluestem tall bluestem turkey-foot TAXONOMY : The scientific name of big bluestem is Andropogon gerardii Vitman (Poaceae) [10,19,45,50,143]. There is disagreement over the taxonomic treatment of the the grasses traditionally known as big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii Vitman) and sand bluestem (Andropogon hallii Hack.). These two bluestems are recognized either as distinct species [10,19,45,50] or as varieties within a single species [44,63,101,137]. Artificial hybridization experiments have shown that these two bluestems are completely interfertile [101], with offspring showing intermediate morphological characteristics [45,101]. These two bluestems, however, show clear ecological differences: big bluestem is widely distributed in North America on moist prairie sites, while sand bluestem is restricted to drier, sandy soils in the Great Plains [10]. Where their ranges overlap, they freely interbreed. In the Nebraska Sandhills, big bluestem occurs only in low meadows, while sand bluestem is restricted to upland sand dunes. Hybrids are found in narrow zones 16 to 33 feet (5-10 m) wide at the dune-meadow interface [10]. LIFE FORM : Graminoid FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : NO ENTRY

DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE

SPECIES: Andropogon gerardii
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : Big bluestem is widespread, occupying all but a few western states, but it is most conspicuous in the tallgrass and mixed-grass prairie regions. It is distributed across southern Canada from Quebec to Saskatchewan, south through Montana and Wyoming to Arizona and northern Mexico, and eastward to Florida and Maine [44,50,131,133]. ECOSYSTEMS :    FRES15  Oak - hickory    FRES17  Elm - ash - cottonwood    FRES19  Aspen - birch    FRES21  Ponderosa pine    FRES32  Texas savanna    FRES38  Plains grasslands    FRES39  Prairie STATES :      AL  AZ  AR  CO  CT  DE  FL  GA  HI  IL      IN  IA  KS  KY  LA  ME  MD  MA  MN  MS      MO  MT  NE  NH  NJ  NM  NY  NC  ND  OH      OK  PA  RI  SC  SD  TN  TX  UT  VT  VA      WV  WI  WY  MB  ON  PQ  SK  MEXICO BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :     7  Lower Basin and Range     9  Middle Rocky Mountains    10  Wyoming Basin    11  Southern Rocky Mountains    12  Colorado Plateau    13  Rocky Mountain Piedmont    14  Great Plains    15  Black Hills Uplift    16  Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :    K011  Western ponderosa forest    K012  Douglas-fir forest    K016  Eastern ponderosa forest    K017  Black Hills pine forest    K018  Pine - Douglas-fir forest    K023  Juniper - pinyon forest    K037  Mountain-mahogany - oak scrub    K038  Great Basin sagebrush    K056  Wheatgrass - needlegrass shrubsteppe    K064  Grama - needlegrass - wheatgrass    K065  Grama - buffalograss    K066  Wheatgrass - needlegrass    K067  Wheatgrass - bluestem - needlegrass    K069  Bluestem - grama prairie    K070  Sandsage - bluestem prairie    K074  Bluestem prairie    K075  Nebraska Sandhills prairie    K076  Blackland prairie    K079  Palmetto prairie    K081  Oak savanna    K082  Mosaic of K074 & K100    K083  Cedar glades    K084  Cross Timbers    K086  Juniper - oak savanna    K087  Mesquite - oak savanna    K098  Northern floodplain forest SAF COVER TYPES :      1  Jack pine     14  Northern pin oak     16  Aspen     63  Cottonwood     72  Southern scrub oak    237  Interior ponderosa pine    241  Western live oak SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES : Big bluestem is characteristic of climax grasslands throughout the tallgrass prairie region; farther west in the mixed-grass prairie region it is a climax grass in well-watered lowlands.  It once blanketed the tallgrass prairie, often comprising 70 to 90 percent of the vegetation [108]. Published classification schemes listing big bluestem as a climax indicator species or as a dominant part of the vegetation are presented below: Area          Classification                    Authority ----        ---------------------         --------------------- KS          Grasslands                    Albertson 1937 MN          Tallgrass Prairie             Smeins and Olsen 1970 ND          Prairie Vegetation            Dix and Smeins 1967             Tallgrass Vegetation         Meyer 1985             Grasslands                    Whitman and Wali 1975 NM          Pinyon-Juniper Woodlands      Kennedy 1983 TX          Prairie                       Collins and others 1975

MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS

SPECIES: Andropogon gerardii
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE : Big bluestem provides both food and cover for numerous livestock and wildlife species.  It is both palatable and nutritious, and livestock often prefer it over other grasses on summer ranges [61,118].  Upland game birds and songbirds eat the seeds [92]. PALATABILITY : Big bluestem is highly palatable to all classes of livestock during spring and summer, with new growth being particularly palatable [61,118,132].  Palatability decreases as the grass cures, and big bluestem is probably only of fair palatability during the winter.  The relish and degree of use shown by livestock and wildlife species for big bluestem in several western states is as follows [28,61,92,118,141]:                      CO    KS    MT    NE    ND    SD    TX    WY   Cattle              good  good  good  good  good  good  good  good Sheep               good  good  good  good  good  good  good  good Horses              good  good  good  good  good  good  good  good Pronghorn           ----  fair  ----  ----  poor  ----  ----  fair Elk                 ----  ----  ----  ----  ----  good  ----  poor Mule deer           ----  ----  ----  ----  poor  ----  ----  poor White-tailed deer   ----  ----  ----  ----  poor  ----  poor  fair Small mammals       ----  fair  ----  ----  ----  ----  ----  fair Small nongame birds ----  fair  ----  ----  ----  ----  ----  fair Upland game birds   ----  fair  ----  ----  ----  ----  ----  fair Waterfowl           ----  ----  ----  ----  ----  ----  ----  poor NUTRITIONAL VALUE : Nutritional value of big bluestem varies seasonally.  During spring and summer, it provides high-quality forage, but as the growing season advances, protein levels decrease significantly [87,88,89].  The combination of its chemical composition and high palatability, however, make big bluestem a superior quality summer forage.  It should be cut for hay in early to midsummer, before the nutritive quality decreases. Big bluestem plants collected in Nebraska and North Dakota showed the following seasonal changes in nutrition [52,88]:                              %Crude   %Crude    %Crude     Nitrogen Free Location    Date     Ash     Protein   Fiber      Fat         Extract Nebraska  6/26-7/5   10.7     14.46    30.65     2.99         41.19 N. Dakota   8/14     5.61     5.54     30.96     ----         40.03 Nebraska  mid-Sept   7.14     5.31     38.26     2.31         46.98 Seasonal trends in protein and in vitro dry matter digestibility (IVDMD) of big bluestem plants from Nebraska are given below [89]: Collection Date     Crude Protein      IVDMD   mid-June             14.4%            62.2%  late June              10.6%            ----   mid-July               8.7%            ---- early October            7.0%            34.9% COVER VALUE : The tall, coarse, upright vegetative structure of big bluestem, when found in pure stands or when mixed with other tall and mid-height grasses, provides excellent nesting and protective cover for smaller wildlife species.  Big bluestem provides essential nesting cover for the greater prairie chicken, lesser prairie chicken, ring-necked pheasant, partridges, quail, dabbling ducks, the sedge wren and numerous other song birds [17,43,59,112,127,138].  Big bluestem provides greatest environmental protection during the summer but, because it is resistant to flattening by snow, also provides protective cover during the winter. Big bluestem provides important cover for at least 24 species of songbirds that winter on the Konza Prairie in Kansas [38]. The degree to which big bluestem provides environmental protection during one or more seasons for wildlife species in some western states is as follows [17,38,59,66,92,114]:                      IA    KS    MN    MO    ND    SD    WY  Pronghorn           ----  ----  ----  ----  poor  ----  ---- Elk                 ----  ----  ----  ----  ----  ----  poor Mule deer           ----  ----  ----  ----  good  ----  poor White-tailed deer   ----  ----  ----  ----  good  ----  poor Small mammals       ----  ----  good  ----  good  ----  fair Small nongame birds ----  good  ----  ----  good  ----  fair Upland game birds   ----  good  ----  good  good  ----  fair Waterfowl           good  ----  good  ----  good  good  poor VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES : Big bluestem has been seeded with other native prairie species to restore disturbed prairie sites.  Many states have successfully reconstructed prairies for scientific, educational, and aesthetic purposes [22,112].  Big bluestem has also been planted by managers attempting to reestablish native prairie vegetation along highways [90]. Big bluestem is not widely used for revegetating mine spoils; it has shown varying success on different spoil material [8,48,78]. For rehabilitation purposes, cultivars released for the area should be used.  Cultivars planted in areas with similar climatic conditions and not more than 300 miles (500 km) north or 180 miles (290 km) east, west, or south of their origin generally perform well.  Seed can be purchased, or gathered locally in the early fall by hand picking or combining. Local sources include railroad rights-of-way, backcountry roads, and old cemetaries [110].  Commercially available big bluestem cultivars include [9,15,59,131]: 'Bonilla' - originates from Bonilla, South Dakota.  It is recommended for use in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota.  It exhibits early maturity and early winter hardiness. 'Champ' - originates from Iowa and northern Nebraska.  It was developed from interbreeding big bluestem and sand bluestem.  This is an early maturing cultivar recommended for use from Nebraska south into Kansas, and eastward on favorable sites. 'Kaw' - originates from the Flint Hills of Kansas.  This is a tall, leafy, late maturing cultivar recommended for use from central Nebraska south through Oklahoma. 'Pawnee' - originates from Pawnee County, Nebraska.  This is a late maturing cultivar recommended for use from central Nebraska south through Oklahoma. 'Rountree' - originates from west-central Iowa.  This cultivar is resistant to leaf rust and has high forage production. It is recommended for use throughout Missouri, Iowa, and southern Illinois. 'NDG-4' - is being developed from seed collected in North Dakota for possible use throughout the Northern Great Plains. For planting guidelines refer to Wasser [131], Reis and others [106], McGinniesand Hassell [83], Oaks [91], Vogel [129], and Woehler [140]. OTHER USES AND VALUES : Big bluestem along with other native grasses and forbs has been used to develop small prairie plantings for use in residential landscaping.  In these small plantings, plants are seeded in mixtures to approximate the temporal and physical structure of regional native prairie communities [27]. OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Big bluestem can withstand considerable grazing, but if continually grazed closer than 6 to 8 inches (15-20 cm) during the growing season, it will be replaced by less desirable grasses [118].  Bluestem ranges have traditionally been grazed during the summer.  Research in Kansas, however, shows that both continuous and deferred rotation grazing systems can be used effectively [80]. Big bluestem hay should be cut in early summer to midsummer to ensure high nutritive quality and to allow adequate time for plants to replenish carbohydrate reserves before the first killing frosts. Following cutting, livestock grazing should be excluded until after fall frost; this allows stands to retain good vigor and productivity [80].

BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS

SPECIES: Andropogon gerardii
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS : Big bluestem is a native, tall, erect, perennial, warm-season, usually rhizomatous, sod-forming grass [47,117].  The flowering stalks are stout, coarse, and solid, and can reach a height of over 10 feet (3 m) in a favorable growing season [51].  The inflorescence consists of two to six digitate racemes (most commonly three, hence one of its common names "turkey foot") which are 2 to 4 inches (5-10 cm) long [47,117]. Spikelets are in pairs along the raceme axis and are approximately equal in length (0.25 to 0.4 inch [7-10 mm]) [47,117,131].  One is sessile, usually fertile, plump, and awned.  The other is pedicillate, sterile, slender, and awnless [82,131].  Big bluestem stands display a variety of colors from steel gray to wine red [14]. Rhizomes are generally 1 to 2 inches (2.5-5 cm) below the soil surface but are common to a depth of 4 inches [3,133].  They are coarse, 0.1 to 0.2 inch (3-6 mm) thick, excessively branched, and are frequently continuous for 6 to 10 inches (15-24.5 cm) [133].  These rhizomes form an open network, which is branched by the multiple roots which arise from them.  On mature plants, roots are coarse, with laterals extending 2 to 6 inches (5-15 cm) [133].  The main roots extend downward almost vertically to depths of 6 to 10 feet (2-3 m), and taper very gradually [132,133].  A large percentage of the roots are found in the A horizon independent of soil type or horizon depth.  Seventy-eight to ninety percent of root biomass has been found in A horizons ranging from 7 to 20 inches (18-50 cm) [136]. Big bluestem exhibits wide ecotypic variation.  It is generally shorter at maturity in the northern portion of its range, and taller in the southern portion of its range [59].  This variation may also be found within a local area.  Weaver [132] observed flower stalks varying in height from 3 feet (0.9 m) on moist slopes to 7 to 12 feet (2.1-3.6 m) on rich bottomland sites.  Throughout the tallgrass and mixed-grass prairie regions, big bluestem normally is a rhizomatous, sod-forming grass.  But when found in more arid locations, or on drier slopes, its appearance is more similar to a bunchgrass [132]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM :       Geophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES : Although big bluestem is capable of both vegetative and sexual modes of regeneration throughout its range, vegetative regeneration is most prevalent.  Vegetative regeneration occurs with the initiation of growth from rhizomes.  Parent tillers consist of a rhizome, four to six adventitious roots, and an aerial shoot, and develop mature buds in leaf axils on their rhizomes [84].  New tillers begin as buds on the rhizomes of their parent tillers.  These buds grow horizontally from their parent before emerging from the soil surface.  In Kansas, rhizome buds begin to swell and break open in late March, and by the end of April, growth of tillers and elongation of the rhizomes occurs and continues throughout the summer until August [105].  McKendrick and others [84] observed that each tiller averaged two tiller offspring during the succeeding growing season, with about half of these second-year tillers being vegetatively reproductive but producing no seed.  Once a clone is produced, it can live and reproduce for an unknown number of years, perhaps centuries [105]. In undisturbed stands only a small proportion of tillers flower each year.  This has been attributed to the irregularity of moisture and temperatures at blooming time [51,68].  Drought severely reduces flowering, but flowering increases during a wet year following a drought.  Big bluestem also flowers abundantly following fire [68]. Abrams [1] found only 2.5 viable seeds per 1,352 cubic centimeters of soil in undisturbed stands where big bluestem comprised 77 percent of the canopy cover.  This almost total absence of buried seeds suggests a high dependence on vegetative reproduction.  The limited germination in big bluestem may be attributed to the following:  (1) seed predation by birds, mammals, or insects either after having fallen or while still on the plant; (2) fungus and bacteria during wet seasons which cause the seeds to rot; and (3) the very limited space for germination in prairie stands.  Carter and others [16] reported that 40 percent of the seed crop of the big bluestem cultivar 'Pawnee' was destroyed by a midge in certain seed production fields.  This midge is widespread in North America and occurs in many areas where native stands of big bluestem remain. SITE CHARACTERISTICS : Big bluestem occurs on a variety of sites throughout its range but develops best on fertile silt and clay loam soils of lowlands.  Soil moisture seems to be the most important factor determining big bluestem's importance in a community.  It develops best on mesic sites in the true prairie and mixed-grass prairie regions.  In the mixed-grass prairie where precipitation is limited, it occupies ravines, lower portions of gentle slopes, and well-watered lowlands where the soil moisture content is high due to some surface runoff [3,135].  Along the major rivers and their tributaries in the mixed-grass prairie, big bluestem can comprise up to 90 percent of the vegetation over extensive areas [135].  Here its chief associates are sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), dropseeds (Sporobolus spp.), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), and Canada wildrye (Elymus canadensis).  Farther west toward the Rocky Mountains, big bluestem becomes even more dependant upon mesic sites.  In the Rocky Mountain foothills of eastern Wyoming, big bluestem was found only on south-facing slopes of steep ravines, and always growing immediately adjacent to large rocks which apparently acted as micro watersheds, substantially increasing the usable soil moisture from summer rains [49]. In the true prairie region, big bluestem occurs on upland sites and is associated with little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), but generally comprises only 5 to 20 percent of the cover [133].  Big bluestem seems to be less tolerant than little bluestem to low soil moisture.  This is apparently due to big bluestem's deep, coarse, root system which is effective at extracting moisture from the silty or clayey soils of sites it usually dominates [79].  Even in the true prairie where precipitation is abundant, big bluestem is most plentiful on low mesic sites [58,122,133].  Here it is most often associated with two other tallgrasses:  indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans) and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum).  In moist stands, individual stems in well-established sod are spaced about 0.5 inch (1 cm) apart [108,132].  Yet the foliage is so dense and spreading that light is reduced at the soil surface by as much as 58 percent [70], making establishment of other species difficult.  In drier habitats, big bluestem grows as a bunchgrass, occurring in isolated bunches [32,108].  Big bluestem is shade tolerant, and its leaves are able to remain green and function with only 5 to 10 percent of full sunlight [108]. Big bluestem is believed to have been the prevailing grass present during the formation of prairie soils [5].  These soils are generally silt loam to silty clay loam with soil horizons greater than 10 inches (25 cm).  Big bluestem grows best on fertile silt and clay loam soils of lowlands and ravines but is also common on calcareous blackland soils [131].  Generally it grows well in silty or clayey soils, fair in sandy soils, and poor in gravelly soils or dense clay [126,132].  In Texas, big bluestem frequency has been shown to be positively correlated with percent clay and organic matter of soil [25]. Elevational ranges in some western states are as follows [28,42]:         CO     3,400 to 9,500 feet (1,036-2,896 m)         NM     3,500 to 9,000 feet (1,067-2,743 m)         MT     3,300 to 4,000 feet (1,006-1,219 m)         WY     3,600 to 9,000 feet (1,067-2,743 m) SUCCESSIONAL STATUS : Obligate Climax Species Self-perpetuating stands of big bluestem are indicative of climax grassland communities.  Its ability to dominate the prairie is due to its rapid growth, dense sod-forming habit, great stature, and shade tolerance [108,132]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT : Big bluestem grows very rapidly, producing large amounts of foliage in just a few short months.  A warm-season grass, big bluestem begins growing in mid to late spring, several weeks after cool-season grasses. As the season progresses, plants develop a dozen or more leaves from a central tiller [105].  In Kansas, new growth begins between April 15 and May 1, and by early July heavy foliage often exceeds 20 inches (50 cm) [3].  Under favorable conditions, leaves may grow 0.75 inch (2 cm) a day, attaining a mature height of 2.5 to 3 feet (0.75-0.9 m) by midsummer [133,134].  After vegetative growth is complete, the flower stalks begin to develop, and elongate 1.5 to 3 inches (3.8-7.6 cm) per day [133].  Most flower stalks are produced in mid to late summer, with plants from the northern portion of big bluestem's range flowering earlier than those from the southern.  During a drought, discontinuous flowering may occur.  In Illinois, a drought in July and early August caused the tips of the culms to die back.  But following rains of above normal precipitation in August, new inflorescences developed on the culms below the withered ones [64]. The timing of nine phenological stages for eight varieties (cultivars or test seed) of big bluestem are shown below [95]. Phenological stage: 1.  First emergence of inflorescence, 10 culms or more 2.  First anthesis, 10 culms or more 3.  Fifty percent emergence of the inflorescence 4.  Fifty percent anthesis 5.  First seed mature 6.  Fifty percent seed maturity 7.  Seed mature - starting to shatter 8.  Most seed shattered 9.  Complete dormancy Phenolog. stage   1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8     9 origin   seed                                       nw MN   ND-3784 Jul 11  14    19    27  Aug 20  29   Sep 4  14  Oct 13 nw MN   ND-3785 Jul 12  15    22    30  Aug 20  29   Sep 4  15  Oct 15    ND   ND-4    Jul 13  14    22    29  Aug 18  Sep 2  14   29  Oct 15    SD  'Bonilla'Jul 27 Aug 1  18    23  Sep 11  29   Oct 9  ---   ---    SD   SD-43   Aug 9   10    18    29  Sep 24  ---   ---   ---   ---    NE  'Champ'  Aug 13  13    27    30    ---   ---   ---   ---   ---    NE  'Pawnee' Aug 16  16  Sep 4    7    ---   ---   ---   ---   ---    KS  'Kaw'    Aug 31 Sep 2  13    16    ---   ---   ---   ---   --- Flowering times for several states are as follows [28,71,94,114,134]: Location        Beginning of flowering       End of flowering   CO                    July                     Sept   IL                    July                     Aug   IO                    July                     Sept   KS                    July                     Sept   MO                    July                     Sept   MT                    Aug                      Sept   ND                    July                     Aug   NE                    July                     Sept   SD                    July                     ----   WY                    July                     Sept

FIRE ECOLOGY

SPECIES: Andropogon gerardii
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS : Historically, fires occurred frequently in the tallgrass prairie and were essential in maintaining these grasslands [23].  Across the Great Plains, lightning-caused fires may have occurred as frequently as every 1 to 6 years [74].  Having evolved in a grassland environment subjected to frequent fires, big bluestem is well adapted to fire.  After aboveground foliage is consumed by fire, new growth is initiated from rhizomes.  The well-developed rhizomes are generally 1 to 2 inches (2.5-5 cm) below the soil surface [3,133].  In general, grassland fires are of low intensity because the flames pass quickly, and the soil temperature 1 inch (2.54 cm) below the surface rises very little [74]. Plants burned during the spring when dormant quickly send up vigorous new growth because of stored carbohydrate reserves in belowground organs.  If burned during the summer when plants are actively growing, plants normally survive by initiating new growth from rhizomes; however, regrowth may be slower and less vigorous than in plants burned when dormant [36]. POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :    Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil

FIRE EFFECTS

SPECIES: Andropogon gerardii
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT : Under dry conditions, up to 100 percent of live and dead aboveground stems and leaves may be consumed by fire [36,53].  Rhizomes, however, usually survive, even when aboveground tissue is completely destroyed. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT : Fires that occur during the the active growth stage in the summer are most damaging to big bluestem because of the limited carbohydrate reserves available for new growth during this time period [23].  Burning tallgrass prairie in Oklahoma during late summer resulted in nearly complete combustion of aboveground biomass [36].  On grazed plots with little fuel accumulation, tillers were completely defoliated but did not suffer apical meristem damage.  On ungrazed plots with heavy fuel accumulation, tillers did suffer apical meristem damage.  Tiller density was significantly lower 2 months after burning on these high fuel plots, and new growth consisted largely of newly initiated tillers. PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE : Big bluestem initiates new growth from surviving rhizomes after aboveground foliage has been damaged or consumed by fire.  After summer burns, depending on the amount of damage inflicted, regrowth is either from undamaged apical meristems or from the initiation of new tillers from underground rhizomes [36].  Plants burned during the spring or fall when the aboveground foliage is dead resume growth in the spring as normal.  In general, spring burning has a stimulating effect on the growth and competitive vigor of big bluestem [74]. Big bluestem plants in recently burned areas start growth earlier in the spring, develop faster, and produce more herbage than plants in unburned areas.  This earlier and increased growth is most often attributed to increased solar radiation reaching the soil following the removal of standing dead material [53,56,69,70,94,102] which results in higher soil temperatures [76,100].  Following spring burning in native bluestem prairie in Missouri, soil surface temperatures in burned areas compared to unburned area averaged 7.1 degrees F (3.9 deg C) warmer in April, 11.4 degrees F (6.3 deg C) warmer in May, 8.3 degrees F (4.6 deg C) warmer in June, and 7.1 degrees F (3.9 deg C) warmer in July [76]. Increased soil temperatures promote earlier root growth and activity and thus earlier emergence of shoots [72,99,106].  Also, the emerging shoots receive more sunlight because they are not shaded by the standing dead shoots and leaves of the previous year.  Knapp [69] reported that following spring burning in Kansas tall grass prairie, big bluestem had a greater photosynthetic rate and increased stomatal conductance and leaf thickness in response to increased solar radiation. In the tallgrass prairie, late spring burning, when warm-season grasses are about to resume growth, is the most beneficial to big bluestem.  Big bluestem stands burned at this time show the highest aboveground biomass gains compared to unburned stands or stands burned at other times of the year [4,8,123].  In the true prairie region, spring burning of big bluestem stands that have not been burned within the past few years almost always results in increased yields.  Two to three fold increases are common [46,53,76,94,99,125].  Increases in big bluestem growth following late spring burning are associated with increases in (1) the density of tillers [53,68,121], (2) root and rhizome biomass [46], and (3) size and number of leaves [4,69,70,121]. Increased flower stalk production is also common following burning [21,32,33,46,54,94].  Following burning in Wisconsin, flower stalk production increased six-fold [21]; after a spring burn in Iowa, flower stalk production increased seven fold but returned to normal by the third postburn growing season [32].  Although numerous researchers report dramatic increases in seed production, Abrams [1] observed that seedlings were less frequent in areas burned annually or on a 4-year cycle than in unburned areas. Big bluestem rapidly produces large amounts of foliage following fire. Generally, it takes 2 to 5 years after burning for litter accumulation to equal that of unburned areas [23].  When the fire interval is greater than about 5 years, bluestem prairie becomes unproductive because the large accumulations of standing dead material stifle growth.  However, fires occurring more frequently than every 2 years will probably lower biomass production. The Research Project Summary, Herbaceous responses to seasonal burning in experimental tallgrass prairie plots provides information on postfire response of big bluestem in experimental prairie plots that was not available when this species review was originally written. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE : Postburn herbage production indicates that the season of burning, the amount of annual precipitation the area receives, and site conditions greatly influence big bluestem's response to burning.  Big bluestem increases as influenced by different annual burning dates in Kansas are summarized below [123]:            Kansas prairie burned annually 48 of 56 years time of burning             percent big bluestem in the grass community         prestudy (unburned)                             16.7 poststudy (unburned)                            18 late spring, about May 1                        46 mid-spring, about April 10                      24 early spring, about March 20                    23 winter, about December 1                        35 Farther west, in the mixed-grass prairie which receives less precipitation, big bluestem generally increases following fire if precipitation is average or above average but decreases if drought conditions occur.  Response is somewhat variable though, and dependent upon site characteristics.  On upland sites in the mixed-grass prairie where big bluestem occurs infrequently, it is generally not stimulated by burning [115].  Big bluestem is more common on lowland sites, and because lowlands receive some surface water runoff, burning these sites in the spring results in increased big bluestem biomass [35,115].  In the mixed-grass prairie of north-central South Dakota, big bluestem production increased following spring burning on overflow sites, even though 2 years of below average precipitation followed [35].  Results from this study are summarized below:                                                            current years  burning     phenological       leaf          flower       growth (g/m2)   date          state        length (cm)     stalks/m2      (air dried)                              8/80   8/81    8/80   8/81        8/80 May 15, 1980   dormant      21.3   45.2     132.4  69.8        128.8 June 16, 1980  5-10 cm tall 16.8   37.0      95.2  53.8         71.4 control                     42.4   43.4       2.0  15.1         23.0 Fires that occur during the summer cause the most harm to big bluestem. Summer burning during a below average precipitation year in north-central South Dakota resulted in the reduction of big bluestem on overflow sites, and shifted dominance towards cool-season grasses [115]. In the true prairie of Oklahoma, late summer burning resulted in initial reductions of big bluestem tiller density; however, by the end of the growing season, tiller density returned to normal [36].  Measurements taken the following August showed that productivity was within the seasonal normal range.  In the Black Hills of South Dakota, big bluestem basal cover remained unchanged following an October burn [13], and increased slightly following spring burning [41]. FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Late spring is the best time to burn big bluestem stands.  The later in the spring burning occurs, just prior to the emergence of new growth, the greater the postburn herbage production will be.  If burns are conducted too early, production may decrease as a result of the increased evaporation of soil moisture in the interval between the fire and the resumption of new growth [74].  Spring burns leave the soil exposed for the least amount of time and thus reduce soil moisture levels over the growing season less than winter, early, or mid-spring burns [6,85].  Regardless of season of burn, however, soil moisture content is consistently lower in burned areas than in unburned areas. Thus in drought years, in areas of low precipitation, or in areas where soil moisture is limiting, big bluestem will probably not show the high postburn biomass increases generally reported for tallgrass prairie sites. Late spring burning can be used to increase grass productivity and improve cattle use.  Cattle prefer vegetation on burned sites over that on unburned sites [80].  Compared with weight gains of cattle grazing in nearby unburned pastures, weight gains of cattle grazing on late spring burned pastures were 17 percent higher in Oklahoma [115], and 11 percent higher in Kansas [80]. Late spring burning can be used to increase big bluestem and other warm season grass composition in warm season pastures or rangelands infested with undesirable cool season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass.  Late spring burning favors warm season grasses because they are dormant at the time of ignition, and resume growth as normal from stored food reserves held in underground organs.  Burning at this time generally harms cool season grasses, however, since they begin spring growth earlier, and are actively growing at the time of ignition.

FIRE CASE STUDIES

SPECIES: Andropogon gerardii
FIRE CASE STUDY CITATION : Uchytil, Ronald J., compiler. 1988. Effects of different fuel loads on big bluestem in an Oklahoma prescribed fire. In: Andropogon gerardii. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ []. REFERENCE : Ewing, A. L.; Engle, D. M. 1988. Effects of late summer fire on tallgrass prairie microclimate and community composition. The American Midland Naturalist. 120(1): 212-223. [36]. SEASON/SEVERITY CLASSIFICATION : Late summer/severe STUDY LOCATION : This study took place at the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station's Agronomy Research Range, approximately 9 miles (15 km) southwest of Stillwater, Oklahoma. PREFIRE VEGETATIVE COMMUNITY : The vegetation was tallgrass prairie dominated by the big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and side-oats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula). TARGET SPECIES PHENOLOGICAL STATE : Big bluestem was in an active growth stage at the time of this September 5 burn.  Plants were probably in flower. SITE DESCRIPTION : Two similar upland study sites with different grazing histories, approximately 2.1 miles (3.5 km) apart, were burned.  One site was moderately grazed in recent years including the year of burning (considered the low fuel site), while the other had not been grazed for at least 3 years (considered the high fuel site).  Mean annual precipitation is 32.7 inches (83.1 cm) with 75 percent falling between April through October.  Precipitation was 17 percent above average during the 1985 growing season.  Weather conditions were typical of wildfire conditions - hot and dry.  The relative humidity was 36 percent, while the ambient temperature was 98.6 degrees F (37 deg C). Wind speed at the low fuel plots was 13.8-24 mph (23-40 kph), and 7.8-18 mph (13-30 kph) at the high fuel plots.  The low fuel plots had 443 plus or minus 74 grams/m2 of accumulated fuel, while the high fuel plots had 1032 plus or minus 60 grams/m2 of accumulated fuel. FIRE DESCRIPTION : The fire was a line head fire ignited by drip torch on September 5, 1985. Fire intensity and fire temperatures demonstrate that fire on the high fuel plot was roughly four times as intense at the soil surface as that on the low fuel plot.  Fire intensity and duration was measured in degree seconds.  Degree seconds is the amount of time the sampled area differs from the ambient post-burn temperature by more than 2 degrees C (sampled at two second intervals).  Data on fire intensity and duration are presented below:    Area Sampled                              degree seconds                                       low fuel            high fuel soil surface                      10,400 +or- 1,900    43,000 +or- 3,200 6 in (15 cm) above soil surface    6,300 +or- 40       29,000 +or- 2,100 12 in (30 cm) above soil surface   3,900 +or- 180      20,300 +or- 1,400 FIRE EFFECTS ON TARGET SPECIES : This late summer fire resulted in nearly complete combustion of biomass, with the plots generally having blackened and bare soil with a dusting of ash.  Tiller counts two months after the fire showed that big bluestem recovered well on the low fuel plot.  Most of the regrowth came from existing tillers which had been completely defoliated but had not suffered apical meristem damage during the fire.  On the high fuel plot, extensive damage to tillers occurred.  Reductions in tiller densities were apparent 2 months after burning.  Regrowth on high fuel plots consisted largely of newly initiated tillers.  Big bluestem tiller density before and after burning is summarized below:                               low fuel plot          high fuel plot                        before burn  after burn   before burn  after burn                         (8/15/85)   (10/22/85)    (8/15/85)   (10/22/85) tiller density (#/m2)      23          45            89          17 By the end of the following growing season, tiller densities were roughly equal on burned and unburned plots.  Even on the high fuel plot, where fire induced reductions in tiller density was apparent in the early growing season, tiller densities returned to normal by September. FIRE MANAGEMENT IMPLICATIONS : The rhizomatous character of big bluestem makes it well adapted to survive summer fires.  Initiating new growth from rhizomes allows this grass to quickly revegetate the postburn community.  Wildfire in the tall grass prairie region, may initially reduce big bluestem productivity, but total aboveground biomass may return to normal by the end of the following growing season.

References for species: Andropogon gerardii


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