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Plant-Herbivore Interactions in a North American Mixed-Grass Prairie. I. Effects of Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs on Intraseasonal Aboveground Plant Biomass and Nutrient Dynamics and Plants Species Diversity

D. L. Coppock, J. K. Detling, J. E. Ellis and M. I. Dyer
Oecologia
Vol. 56, No. 1 (1983), pp. 1-9
Published by: Springer in cooperation with International Association for Ecology
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4216853
Page Count: 9
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Plant-Herbivore Interactions in a North American Mixed-Grass Prairie. I. Effects of Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs on Intraseasonal Aboveground Plant Biomass and Nutrient Dynamics and Plants Species Diversity
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Abstract

Research was conducted to determine the effects of a native, sedentary rodent of North American grasslands, the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus), on seasonal aboveground plant biomass and nutrient dynamics and plant species diversity. The study was done on a northern mixed-grass prairie site at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota. Peak live plant biomass was greatest (190 g/m2) on the uncolonized part of the study area and least (95 g/m2) on a part of the prairie dog town colonized for 3 to 8 y. Peak live plant biomass (170 g/m2) of the oldest portion of the prairie dog town (colonized >26 y) was not significantly different from that of uncolonized prairie. However, whereas graminoids composed >85% of the total biomass of the latter area, forbs and dwarf shrubs (Artemisia frigida) were >95% of the total of the former. Both standing-dead plant biomass and litter declined markedly as time since colonization increased. Total plant species diversity (H) was greatest in the young prairie dog town (colonized for 3 to 8 y). Nitrogen concentration of plant shoots varied significantly as a function of time since colonization. Shoot-nitrogen was lowest in plants from the uncolonized site and greatest in plants collected from the longest-colonized areas of the prairie dog town. Shoot-nitrogen declined significantly over the growing season and tended to be higher in C₃ graminoids than in C₄ graminoids. In vitro digestible dry matter showed similar trends; the differences between C₃ and C₄ digestibilities were greatest during the last half of the growing season. We suggest that prairie dog-induced changes in plant biomass, plant species diversity, plant nutrient content, and forage digestibility may lead to further alterations of nutrient cycling and trophic dynamics in this mixed-grass prairie ecosystem.

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