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An Evaluation of Techniques for Tallgrass Prairie Creation, Rose Lake Wildlife Research Area, Clinton County, Michigan.

ABSTRACT

The tallgrass prairie has decreased to an estimated 4% of its original area in North America, mainly as a result of agriculture. Today, only small tallgrass prairie remnants exist and populations of the associated wildlife and plant species have showed alarming declines. To conserve tallgrass prairie ecosystems that historically occurred in portions of Michigan, it is necessary to develop and evaluate techniques for the creation and restoration of prairie patches. The primary goal of this project was to determine which of four prairie creation techniques (burning, mowing, plowing, planting of winter wheat) resulted in the establishment of native tallgrass plant species one-year after treatment. During May to August 1998, pre-treatment data on the structure and composition of vegetation were gathered. From May to August 1999, after the implementation of prairie creation techniques, vegetation structure and composition were re-measured. An increase in native prairie species and a decrease in invading non-prair ie species were used as indicators of the quality of a prairie patch. A secondary goal was to determine the economic feasibility of each treatment. In the first growing season following treatment, our results indicated that treatments using burning and planting of winter wheat were the mast successful in establishing planted prairie species and controlling invading non-prairie annuals, although they were also the most expensive manipulations.

Michigan is located in the range of the grassland biome of the Midwest (Cochrane and Iltis 2000) and is at the eastern boundary of the tallgrass prairie (Transeau 1935) and the prairie-forest ecotone (Cochrane and Iltis 2000) (Figure 1). Historically, this area was characterized by remnant patches of prairie coexisting with patches of savanna and oak (Quercus sp.) or oak-hickory (Quercus sp.-Carya sp.) forests (Transeau 1935). Generally, this area was regarded as being a part of the tallgrass prairie due to the predominance of tallgrass prairie grasses and forbs (Transeau 1935; Thompson 1975; Risser et al. 1981; Brown 1985; Packard and Mutel 1997).

Today, an estimated 4% of the original tallgrass prairie remains in the United States after most of it was plowed for agriculture (Steinauer and Collins 1996) or lost to the invasion of trees and shrubs as a result of fire suppression (Axelrod 1985). Throughout the former range of the tallgrass prairie, only small and scattered remnants exist within the landscape (Steinauer and Collins 1996), and populations of many species of animals and plants associated with these areas have declined dramatically (Knopf 1996). To reduce fragmentation and loss of the prairie ecosystem, it is necessary to develop and evaluate prairie restoration and creation techniques.

We created prairie patches on several fallow fields in Rose Lake Wildlife Research Area (RLWRA), located in Clinton and Shiawassee Counties in central Michigan (managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources [MDNR]), using four techniques. Although RLWRA probably never contained patches of tallgrass prairie (Transeau 1935; Ankney 1988;Comer et al. 1995), it is located in the range of the prairie peninsula, and prairie patches exist in nearby Eaton, Barry, Calhoun, and Kalamazoo counties (Transeau 1935; Chapman and Pleznac 1981) (Figure 1). The goals of this project were to demonstrate floristic changes that occurred one-year after implementation of tallgrass prairie creation techniques and to quantify the costs associated with each technique. Although prairie creations take 2-3 years before resembling a native prairie, information provide in this paper is useful in understanding the successional changes as field age.

Specific objectives of this study were to (1) quantify the one-year effects of prairie creation techniques on vegetation structure and composition; (2) provide baseline data on each techniques effectiveness; and (3) determine the costs associated with each technique.

STUDY SITES

RLWRA is located in Clinton and Shiawassee Counties, Michigan, and is approximately 1,476 ha in size (B. Loper, MDNR, pers. commun.). Five fallow fields in RLWRA were selected for this project. The five fields ranged from 1.0- 4.8 ha in size, and were located in Clinton County. These grassy fields were idle for at least 5 years before prairie creation techniques were implemented (B. Loper, pers. commun.). Fields were selected based on similarity of dominant vegetation species that included common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia), Canada thistle (Cirsium vulgare), goldenrod spp. (Solidago spp.) and red clover (Trifolium pratense). Soils on these fields are in the Boyer-Marlette-Houghton Soil Association, which is characterized by well-drained and moderately well-drained, gently sloping to steep loamy sands and loams on moraines and very poorly drained muck in depressions (U.S.D.A. 1978). Other prairie remnants in Michigan tend to occur on more sandy soils (Hauser 1953, Beirne 1995).

METHODS

Vegetation Structure and Composition

Vegetation composition and structure were determined along 3-6 permanent 100 m transects randomly established in each field. Using a 50 cm x 50 cm modified Daubenmire frame (Daubenmire 1959), plant species composition, relative frequency of each species, percent canopy cover (live, dead, grasses, forbs, and woody vegetation), litter depth and cover and bare ground cover were determined at 6 fixed points along each transect. Horizontal cover was assessed using a Robel pole (Robel et al. 1970), and the maximum height of live and dead standing vegetation was recorded using a meter stick. Henceforth, maximum height of live and dead standing vegetation will be referred to as live height and dead height, respectively. Compositional information was collected by estimating the relative frequency of each vegetation species present for each sampling point. Vegetation measurements were made in mid-to-late June and in late July to early August, 1998 and 1999. Each vegetation characteristic, except species composition, wa s averaged between June and August of each year to determine its value for the summer.

Expenditures

To be able to inform landowners of the costs associated with each prairie creation technique, information on the costs of manipulations was collected. These data were supplied by the MDNR.

Manipulations

Four treatments were selected in consultation with the MDNR. Treatment Burn (2.6 ha) was burned in the spring, treatment Wheat (4.2 ha) was tilled and planted to winter wheat in the fall, treatment Plow (4.8 ha) was mowed in the fall and plowed, disked, and cultipacked (simultaneously placing the seed and firming the soil) in the spring, and treatment Mow (1.4 ha) was mowed in the fall. The standard drip torch technique was used to ignite the fire in the Burn Treatment (2 people, 2 drip torches) (Payne and Bryant 1994). One Control (4.0 ha, no manipulation) was also identified and sampled.

The same mixture of prairie grasses and forbs was no-till planted for each prairie creation technique, at a grass-to-forb ratio of 70:30 (Diboll 1997). The seed mix consisted of the following species. Grasses included big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparius), and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans). Forbs included black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), lanceleaved coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), perennial lupine (Lupinus perennis), and gray-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata). Species of grasses and forbs were selected by the MDNR based on cost and availability of seeds. The seeds were planted in early May 1999 in rows spaced 20 cm apart at a rate of 7.1 kg/ha for grasses and 0.76 kg/ha for forbs. The winter wheat treatment was planted at a rate of 2.5 bushels/ha. Round-Up[R] herbicide was applied in April 1999 at a rate of 3.5 l/ha. Approximately two weeks after planting, in May 1999, Plateau[R] herbicide was applied at a rate of 420 g/ha. Herbiciding occurred on all fields except the Control. Round-up[R] was selected as it has a short biological activity period and targets broad-leaved plants (i.e., forbs) (Washburn et al. 1999). Plateau[R] was applied because the selected planted species were tolerant of it while residual (i.e., those species remaining after application of Round-up[R]) unwanted species were not tolerant and could be eradicated (Washburn et al. 1999).

Data Analyses and Evaluation Procedures

Prairie creation techniques can be evaluated by the establishment success of planted species and a decrease in the number of exotic species. Successful establishment of tallgrass prairie species has been defined by various authors as ranging from one seedling/[m.sup.2] to 20 seedlings/[m.sup.2] (Masters 1997; Vassar et al. 1981). The equivalent of at least one seedling/[m.sup.2] in this study was defined as 25% of vegetation plots containing at least one planted species. Additionally, a decrease in the number and abundance of exotic species and an increase in the number and abundance of native prairie vegetation was used to constitute an increase in the quality of the native prairie.

The nonparametric Wilcoxon matched-pairs signed-ranks test (Siegel 1956) was used to test for differences in vegetation characteristics between years ([alpha] = 0.10).

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Vegetation Structure

On treatments Burn, Wheat, Plow, and Mow, the live height (all treatments P [less than or equal to] 0.01), dead height (all treatments P [less than or equal to] 0.01), horizontal cover (all treatments P [less than or equal to] 0.09), live cover (all treatments P [less than or equal to] 0.03), grass cover (all treatments P [less than or equal to] 0.01), and litter depth (all treatments P [less than or equal to] 0.01) decreased between 1998 and 1999, while litter cover and bare ground (P [less than or equal to] 0.01) increased (Table 1). On treatment Wheat, forb cover (P [less than or equal to] 0.01) and woody cover (P = 0.03) decreased between 1998 and 1999 (Table 1). On treatment Plow, dead cover (P [less than or equal to] 0.01) decreased while forb cover (P = 0.08) increased in that time period. On treatment Mow, dead cover (P [less than or equal to]0.01) increased, while forb cover (P = 0.07) and woody cover (P = 0.08) decreased between 1998 and 1999 (Table 1). On the Control treatment, live height (P = 0.0 2), dead height (P = 0.03), and live cover (P = 0.00) increased, while litter cover and bare ground (P[less than or equal to] 0.01) and litter depth (P [less than or equal to] 0.01) decreased between 1998 and 1999 (Table 1).

The decreases in live height, dead height, horizontal cover, percent live cover, percent grass cover, and litter depth, and increases in litter cover and bare ground between 1998 and 1999 on all manipulated treatments were expected, as the prairie creation techniques were designed to kill off the existing vegetation to decrease competition between undesired species and planted prairie species. The increase in forb cover on treatment Plow, however, was unexpected. This treatment had the greatest growth of undesirable invasive annuals of the manipulated treatments. These annuals were mostly forbs, which grew considerably during the 1999 growing season. The removal of these undesired plants is often one of the most challenging parts of a prairie creation, as they may outcompete the planted prairie species (Landers et al. 1970; Cottam 1987; Kline and Howell 1987; Anderson 1994; Masters et al. 1996; Wilson and Stubbendieck 1996). Thus, it maybe necessary to use herbicide to assist in the control of undesired spec ies that plowing alone cannot control.

Establishment of Planted Species

The criterion of 25% of vegetation plots containing at least one planted species was met on all manipulated treatments in both months (Table 2). In June 1999, treatment Wheat had the highest percentage of plots containing at least one planted species (83%), and was considered the most successful treatment in terms of establishment success, followed by treatments Plow (78%), Burn (58%), and Mow (25%; Table 2). By August, treatment Burn had improved considerably, having the greatest percentage of plots with at least one planted species present (92%), followed by treatments Wheat (88%), Plow (69%), and Mow (54%). All treatments increased in the percentage of plots with at least one planted species between June and August, except for treatment Plow, which decreased. No planted prairie species were detected on the Control.

Individual planted prairie grass and forb species showed varying establishment successes (Table 2). By August, all three grass species had successfully established on treatments Burn and Wheat. On treatment Mow, none of the planted species were successfully established in June. By August, big bluestem was the only planted species that exceeded 25% of plots in treatment Mow. None of the forb species were successfully established on any treatment in any month, and the only planted forb species that was observed in any vegetation plots was perennial lupine. Forbs were planted at lower rates than grasses, so it was expected that forbs would not be in as many vegetation plots compared to grasses. Other studies have also found at forbs tend to have very low establishment successes in prairie restorations and creations and may take [greater than] 1 year to become established once planted (Howell and Kline 1994). Plantings occurred with one week of rainfall thus soil moisture likely did not contribute to a decreased establishment of forb species.

Exotic Invasion

The second requirement for successful establishment of a native tallgrass prairie in this study was a decrease in exotic or nonprairie species. Several species generally considered to be problems in prairie restoration and creation (Solecki 1997) were present on the treatments (Table 3). On treatment Burn, smooth brome (Bromus inermis) decreased from being present in 100% of plots in 1998 to 8% of plots in 1999. On treatment Wheat, the percentage of plots with blue-joint (Calamagrostis canadensis), quack grass (Agropyron repens), smooth brome, and wild carrot (Daucus carota) decreased between 1998 and 1999, decreasing by 25%, 14%, 42%, and 33% of plots, respectively (Table 3). The percentage of plots with lambs-quarters (Chenopodium album) increased by 19% between 1998 and 1999 on treatment Wheat. On treatment Plow, common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia), lambs-quarters, and velvet-leaf (Abutilon theophrasti) were not present in any vegetation plots in 1998 and increased to occurring on [greater than] 50% of plots in 1999. These species are annual forbs that commonly invade newly disturbed sites. It is likely that the plowing and disking treatments brought previously buried dormant seeds of these species to the surface, causing them to germinate (Morgan 1997). The percentage of plots with quack grass and wild carrot decreased by 27% and 50% of plots, respectively, on treatment Plow. On treatment Mow, the only species that increased substantially in occurrence between 1998 and 1999 was quack grass, which increased by 20% of plots, and was present in 83% of plots in 1999. The Control field showed relatively few changes in the percentage of plots with non-prairie species. On the Control field the percentage of plots with quack grass and wild carrot increased by 5% and 10%, respectively, between 1998 and 1999, while the percentage of plots with Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) decreased by 17% of plots.

Additional Treatment Characterization

Although not presented in this paper, we also determined the relative abundance of small mammals and birds and insect biomass on the study sites (Hefty 2000). We found that most of these variables decreased on the manipulated treatments between 1998 and 1999 (Hefty 2000). The decrease was mainly the result of the disturbance caused by the creation techniques. As most of the aboveground vegetation biomass was removed as a result of the manipulations, cover and food for most birds, small mammals, and insects were reduced in 1999 compared to 1998. As the aboveground vegetation biomass increases in future years, it is likely that the relative abundance of wildlife and the insect biomass will increase. The relative abundance of small mammals and birds and insect biomass remained constant on the Control field between 1998 and 1999 (Hefty 2000).

Expenditures

Total costs per ha for each prairie creation technique were approximately $606, $595, $496, and $496 for treatments Burn, Wheat, Plow, and Mow, respectively (Table 4). The costs of prairie grasses and forbs was $315/ha. Costs of Round-Up[R] and Plateau[R], application cost (labor) and fuel was and $1 56/ha. Additional costs for treatment Burn included the costs associated with burning (i.e., drip torch, fuel, labor). Additional costs for treatment Wheat included the costs of the winter wheat planting (i.e., cost of winter wheat seeds, planting equipment, labor). The mowing, plowing, disking, and cultipacking costs for each treatment are summarized under the cost of fuel and equipment.

CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The Winter Wheat and Burn treatments were the most successful prairie creation techniques as evidenced by an increase in native prairie plant occurrence and a decrease in the occurrence of undesirable plant species during the first post-treatment year. They were, however, also the most expensive techniques, adding approximately $100 per ha to the baseline costs of the Mow and Plow treatments (Table 4). Washburn et al. (1999) found that the undesired plant tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) re-invaded some restoration sites from which it had been virtually eliminated using herbicides the prior year. It is, therefore, imperative to monitor our prairie creation sites for a number of years and combat any possible increase in undesired species (i.e., those present before and after herbiciding including Canada thistle (Cirsium vulgare) and common burdock (Arcrium minus) by the further use of herbicides and prescribed burns.

As prairie creation attempts take at least 3 years to resemble a native tallgrass prairie (Landers et al. 1970; Kline and Howell 1987), monitoring should continue to fully analyze the success of each technique. Although the Burn and Winter Wheat treatments had the greatest establishment success of planted species in August 1999, the Plow treatment had promising establishment success in June 1999. With continued management (e.g., herbiciding and mowing 2-3 years after initial planting), it may be possible to decrease the amount of invading annuals on this treatment and increase the establishment success of planted species. As this technique was considerably less costly compared to the Burn and Winter Wheat treatments, it may offer an economically viable alternative for prairie creations. Future plans for all fields include continued monitoring with no disturbance (i.e., mowing or burning) until each field is at least 3 years of age.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Funding for this project was provided by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources-Natural Heritage Program, and the Affirmative Action Graduate Financial Assistance Program, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Office of Diversity and Pluralism, Michigan State University. Special thanks to A. Matusz and T. Dandridge, P. Thornton and J. Stetz. Earlier drafts of this manuscript were reviewed by G. Roloff. We also appreciate the comments of Robert Grese of the University of Michigan.

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 Mean (SE) Vegetation Characteristics of Prairies
 Creation Treatments in RLWRA, Clinton
 County, Michigan. in Summer 1998.
 Burn Wheat Plow
Characteristic 1998 1999 1998 1999 1998
Max. live veg. 82.75 15.21 [*] 94.44 31.25 [*] 103.24
 height (cm) (3.23) (3.67) (6.21) (2.24) (2.46)
Max. dead veg. 52.46 6.92 [*] 47.60 6.04 [*] 45.04
 height(cm) (5.22) (0.69) (5.06) (1.41) (4.70)
Horizontal cover 5.28 0.73 [*] 8.11 1.50 [*] 8.58
 (din) (0.20) (0.43) (0.45) (0.27) (0.32)
% live canopy 77.63 10.54 [*] 77.48 22.17 [*] 71.35
 (4.37) (5.75) (2.99) (2.93) (2.35)
% dead canopy 8.04 4.38 3.17 3.83 4.19
 (3.19) (0.61) (0.67) (1.46) (0.86)
% grass canopy 75.88 7.10 [*] 30.31 8.22 23.10
 (4.85) (3.85) (5.85) (1.39) (3.32)
% forb canopy 1.75 3.44 46.67 13.95 [*] 47.63
 (1.09) (2.03) (5.52) (2.18) (3.75)
% woody canopy 0.00 0.00 0.50 0.00 [*] 0.63
 (0.00) (0.25) (0.00) (0.63) (0.00)
% litter cover 14.33 85.08 [*] 19.35 74.00 [*] 24.46
and bare ground (3.51) (5.48) (2.94) (3.25) (2.24)
Litter depth (cm) 4.97 0.38 [*] 2.21 0.16 [*] 3.8 [*]
 (0.19) (0.90) (0.24) (0.06) (0.32)
 Mow Control
Characteristic 1999 1998 1999 1998
Max. live veg. 72.01 [*] 87.29 33.73 [*] 99.21
 height (cm) (3.43) (2.56) (3.99) (3.41)
Max. dead veg. 2.22 [*] 28.73 15.58 [*] 42.50
 height(cm) (0.55) (4.32) (1.06) (3.84)
Horizontal cover 7.66 [*] 7.13 1.83 [*] 9.31
 (din) (0.34) (0.44) (0.44) (0.50)
% live canopy 62.08 87.38 [*] 28.50 [*] 85.51
 (3.93) (1.76) (5.38) (2.22)
% dead canopy 0.32 [*] 1.56 8.75 [*] 1.82
 (0.06) (0.55) (1.31) (0.48)
% grass canopy 4.40 [*] 41.27 4.05 [*] 32.60
 (1.04) (7.53) (0.60) 5.34)
% forb canopy 57.68 [*] 41.21 24.30 [*] 52.51)
 (4.60) (7.53) (5.48) (4.86)
% woody canopy 0.00 4.85 0.15 [*]) 0.40
 (3.37) (0.11) (0.35) (0.73)
% litter cover 37.60 [*] 11.06 62.75 [*] 12.67
and bare ground (3.90) (1.66) (4.76) (2.00)
Litter depth (cm) 0.01 [*] 3.10 1.38 [*] 3.60)
 (0.01) (0.24) (0.13) (0.39
Characteristic 1999
Max. live veg. 108.24 [*]
 height (cm) (4.08)
Max. dead veg. 58.76 [*]
 height(cm) (5.49)
Hotizontal cover 10.02
 (din) (0.42)
% live canopy 93.58 [*]
 (1.21)
% dead canopy 2.2
 (0.88)
% grass canopy 33.93
 (5.84)
% forb canopy 58.61
 (5.75)
% woody canopy 1.04
 (0.00)
% litter cover 4.19 [*]
and bare ground (0.90)
Litter depth (cm) 2.51 [*]
 (0.22)
(*.)Significant ([alpha] - 0.10; Wilcoxon matched-pairs
signed-ranks test) within a treatment between years.
 Percentage of sampling plots with
 planted prairie species in prairie
 creation treatments in RLWRA, Clinton
 County, Michigan, in summer 1999.
 Burn Wheat Plow
Species June August June August June August
Big bluestem 50 58 79 79 61 33
Little bluestem 0 42 58 42 11 11
Indian grass 25 50 50 46 47 61
Black-eyed susan 0 0 0 0 0 0
Lance-leaved coreopsis 0 0 0 0 0 0
Purple coneflower 0 0 0 0 0 0
Perennial lupine 0 0 4 0 3 3
Gray-headed coneflower 0 0 0 0 0 0
Any planted species 58 92 83 88 78 69
 Mow
Species June August
Big bluestem 12 46
Little bluestem 8 4
Indian grass 0 21
Black-eyed susan 0 0
Lance-leaved coreopsis 0 0
Purple coneflower 0 0
Perennial lupine 4 4
Gray-headed coneflower 0 0
Any planted species 25 54
 Mean percentage of sampling plots with the most
 undesired non-prairie plants by treatment in RLWRA,
 Clinton County, Michigan, in summer 1998 and 1999.
 Burn Wheat Plow Mow
Species 1998 1999 1998 1999 1998 1999 1998 1999
Blue-joint 0 0 27 2 14 1 40 2
Canada thistle 0 0 2 2 0 3 10 4
Common ragweed 0 0 6 0 0 53 0 0
Lambs-quarters 0 0 0 19 0 56 0 4
Quack grass 4 8 29 15 76 49 63 83
Smooth brome 100 8 44 2 8 3 0 8
Velvet-leaf 0 0 0 0 0 56 0 0
Wild carrot 0 0 33 0 53 3 4 8
 Control
Species 1998 1999
Blue-joint 18 26
Canada thistle 35 18
Common ragweed 0 0
Lambs-quarters 0 3
Quack grass 60 65
Smooth brome 3 3
Velvet-leaf 0 0
Wild carrot 18 28
 Cost ($/ha) of each prairie creation
 treatment in RLWRA, Clinton County, Michigan,
 between August 1998 and May 1999.
 Treatment
Activity Burn Wheat Plow Mow
Drip torch, fuel, labor 109.63
Winter wheat seeds, planting 98.32
equipment, labor
Herbicides, application 156.l49 156.49 156.49 156.49
equipment, labor
Fuel & planting, mowing, disking, 25.28 25.28 25.28 25.28
cultipacking equipment
Prairie grasses and forbs 314.73 314.73 314.73 314.73
Total cost 606.13 594.82 496.50 496.50
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Author:THORNTON, RUTH C.; MILLENBAH, KELLY F.
Publication:Michigan Academician
Geographic Code:1U3MI
Date:Aug 1, 2000
Words:5000
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