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Woody Plant Invasion of Unburned Kansas Bluestem Prairie

Thomas B. Bragg and Lloyd C. Hulbert
Journal of Range Management
Vol. 29, No. 1 (Jan., 1976), pp. 19-24
DOI: 10.2307/3897682
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3897682
Page Count: 6
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Abstract

Postsettlement invasion of trees and shrubs on the bluestem prairie of Geary County in the Kansas Flint Hills was assessed using aerial photos, General Land Office survey data, and field observations. Tree cover increased 8% from 1856 to 1969 throughout the county, although on regularly burned sites combined tree and shrub cover was effectively maintained at presettlement amounts. On unburned sites, aerial photographs showed that combined tree and shrub cover increased 34% from 1937 to 1969; section-line data showed that tree cover alone increased 24% from 1856 to 1969. Data from two sites suggested that herbicide spraying only slowed the invasion rate. Woody plants increased only slightly on shallow, droughty clay loam soils located on level uplands, ridgetops, and upper slopes. On deeper and more permeable middle- and lower-slope soils, woody plants increased more than 40% from 1937 to 1969. In 1937 trees covered 64% of the unburned, deep, permeable, lowland soils; by 1950 they had increased to 89%; change was slight thereafter. The increase in coverage of the lowland soils from 1856 to 1937 suggests that these soils are rapidly invaded. We conclude that on the Flint Hills bluestem prairie rangeland, (1) burning has been effective in restricting woody plants to natural, presettlement amounts and (2) soil type and topography affect the rate of woody-plant invasion.

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