The researchers used 14 years of fire treatment data, six years of grassland bird monitoring data, and remotely sensed tree cover data from the Rangeland Analysis Platform (RAP) across more than 330,000 acres of privately owned grasslands to observe how grassland-dependent birds responded to landscapes restored by prescribed burning.The team found that the number of grassland bird species increased across 65 percent (~222,000 acres) of the Loess Canyons, and woody plant cover decreased up to 55 percent across 25 percent of all fire-treated areas.
Resources & Links
Read an Ask an Expert interview with lead researcher, Caleb Roberts, here.
Read more about the impact of prescribed fire on restoring biodiversity in the Great Plains here.
Learn more about the success of prescribed fire in the Loess Canyons of Nebraska here.
Find additional research conducted in the Loess Canyons Experimental Landscape here.
Roberts, C. P., Scholtz, R., Fogarty, D. T., Twidwell, D., & Walker, T. L. (2022). Large-scale fire management restores grassland bird richness for a private lands’ ecoregion. Ecological Solutions and Evidence, 3, e12119. https://doi.org/10.1002/2688-8319.12119
Of all terrestrial biomes, grasslands are losing the most biodiversity the most rapidly, so there is a critical need to document and learn from large-scale restoration successes. In the Loess Canyons ecoregion of the Great Plains, USA, an association of private ranchers and natural resource agencies has led a multi-decadal, ecoregion-scale initiative to combat the continued loss of grasslands to woody plant encroachment by restoring large-scale fire regimes.
Here, we use 14 years of fire treatment history with 6 years of grassland bird monitoring and remotely sensed tree cover data across 136,767 hectares of privately-owned grassland to quantify outcomes of large-scale grassland restoration efforts. Grassland bird richness increased across 65% (90,032 ha) of the Loess Canyons, and woody plant cover decreased up to 55% across 25% (7,408 ha) of all fire-treated areas.
This was accomplished with extreme fire treatments that killed mature trees, were large (mean annual area burned was 3,100 ha), spatially clustered, and straddled boundaries between invasive woodlands and remaining grasslands—not heavily-infested woodlands. Findings from this study provide the first evidence of human management reversing the impacts of woody encroachment on grassland birds at an ecoregion scale.