Testing the Hypothesis That Patch Burning and Grazing Increase Heterogeneity and Biodiversity in Great Plains Grasslands

EPA Grant Number: MA916358
Title: Testing the Hypothesis That Patch Burning and Grazing Increase Heterogeneity and Biodiversity in Great Plains Grasslands
Investigators: Moranz, Raymond A.
Institution: Oklahoma State University
EPA Project Officer: Zambrana, Jose
Project Period: January 1, 2004 through December 31, 2006
Project Amount: $95,970
RFA: GRO Fellowships for Graduate Environmental Study (2004) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Natural and Life Sciences , Biology/Life Sciences


After critiquing some of the traditional rangeland management techniques, Fuhlendorf and Engle (2001) have proposed a new paradigm: ranchers should increase grassland heterogeneity at multiple spatial scales using patch burning followed by grazing to restore natural ecosystem processes, enhance native biodiversity, and still achieve excellent production of cattle. Patch burning is a novel technique that involves the prescribed burning of only a portion of the grassland available to a herd or grazers such as cattle or bison. Professors Fuhlendorf and Engle conceived of patch burning/grazing as a technique to mimic the natural processes that impacted grasslands for thousands of years, before European-American settlers made sweeping changes to the landscape. The objective of this research project is to test the hypothesis that in grazed grasslands of the Great Plains the biodiversity of native plants and animals is higher in patch burned grassland than in areas subject to broadcast burning.


I will focus my research on certain taxonomic groups: native grasses and forbs, selected orders of insects, and grassland birds. The Great Plains is a massive area, spanning all of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and large portions of Oklahoma, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. Livestock grazing has had and continues to have immense impact on ecosystem function, plant and animal community composition, and biodiversity on the Great Plains. Findings from the research that I plan to conduct may induce ranchers of Great Plains grasslands to replace traditional grassland management practices with new practices that are more effective at maintaining natural ecosystem function and biodiversity. This research may also have implications for human health. If the patch burning followed by grazing is shown to be effective and becomes more commonly used, it may result in more prescribed fires being conducted on the Great Plains. All of these prescribed fires would produce smoke and other potential pollutants, but the amounts produced per fire would likely be much smaller than those produced by the large-scale prescribed fires that are currently conducted.


Fuhlendorf SD, Engle DM. Restoring heterogeneity on rangelands: ecosystem management based on evolutionary grazing patterns. BioScience 2001;51(8):625-632.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, grazing, grasslands, Great Plains, patch burning, prescribed fires, biodiversity, management practices, ecosystem function, RFA, Ecosystem Protection, Scientific Discipline, ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT, Geographic Area, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Midwest, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Restoration, Resources Management, Monitoring/Modeling, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Environmental Monitoring, ecological exposure, prescribed burns, biodiversity, diversity, ecology, wildlife, regional species diversity, prairie reconstruction, conservation, Tallgrass Prairie reconstruction, plant diversity, ecosystem effects, rangeland managemnet techniques, terrestrial, ecological recovery, ecosystem, economic, prairie vegetation, environmentally stable landscape, grazing

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2004
  • 2005
  • Final