The Role of Disturbances in Shortgrass Steppe Community and Ecosystem Dynamics

TitleThe Role of Disturbances in Shortgrass Steppe Community and Ecosystem Dynamics
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsPeters DC, Lauenroth W.K., Burke IC
Series EditorLauenroth W.K., Burke IC
Book TitleLong-Term Ecological Research in the Shortgrass Steppe
ARIS Log Number111102
AbstractThe disturbance regime of shortgrass steppe ecosystems consists of a number of different types of disturbances operating over a range of spatial and temporal scales. Each disturbance type has its own set of characteristics including size, frequency of occurrence, intensity, and location by soil texture, topographic position, and grazing intensity by cattle. These characteristics result in different short-term, localized effects on plant as well as long-term, broad-scale effects as the disturbances accumulate through time. Although successional studies have been conducted in these grasslands for over a century, our understanding of the role of different kinds of disturbances in generating and maintaining patterns in vegetation and species dominance in shortgrass ecosystems has developed only since the 1980's. Our current view of the role of disturbance is a dynamic one where the recovery of vegetation depends upon interactions among disturbance characteristics and the life history traits of plants. This gap dynamics conceptualization provides an alternative view of vegetation dynamics compared to traditional successional models based on Clements. Much of the recent work on disturbances in the shortgrass steppe has focused on the relationships between disturbance characteristics and plant life history traits in order to test these different models. This chapter describes the various alternative models, and summarizes the literature on the disturbance regime of shortgrass steppe ecosystems and the responses of vegetation and soils following different kinds of disturbances.