Effects of ungulates and prairie dogs on seed banks and vegetation in a North American mixed-grass prairie

Jace T. Fahnestock, Diane L. Larson, Glenn E. Plumb, James K. Detling

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16 Scopus citations


The relationship between vegetation cover and soil seed banks was studied in five different ungulate herbivoreprairie dog treatment combinations at three northern mixed-grass prairie sites in Badlands National Park, South Dakota. There were distinct differences in both the seed bank composition and the aboveground vegetation between the off-prairie dog colony treatments and the on-colony treatments. The three on-colony treatments were similar to each other at all three sites with vegetation dominated by the forbs Dyssodia papposa, Hedeoma spp., Sphaeralcea coccinea, Conyza canadensis, and Plantago patagonica and seed banks dominated by the forbs Verbena bracteata and Dyssodia papposa. The two off-colony treatments were also similar to each other at all three sites. Vegetation at these sites was dominated by the grasses Pascopyrum smithii, Bromus tectorum and Bouteloua gracilis and the seed banks were dominated by several grasses including Bromus tectorum, Monroa squarrosa, Panicum capillare, Sporobolus cryptandra and Stipa viridula. A total of 146 seedlings representing 21 species germinated and emerged from off-colony treatments while 3069 seedlings comprising 33 species germinated from on-colony treatments. Fifteen of the forty species found in soil seed banks were not present in the vegetation, and 57 of the 82 species represented in the vegetation were not found in the seed banks. Few dominant species typical of mixed-grass prairie vegetation germinated and emerged from seed banks collected from prairie dog colony treatments suggesting that removal of prairie dogs will not result in the rapid reestablishment of representative mixed-grass prairie unless steps are taken to restore the soil seed bank.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)255-268
Number of pages14
JournalPlant Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2003

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to the staff of Badlands National Park, and particularly to Bruce Bessken, for cooperation and logistical support. We thank Sara Marks and Robin Russell for assistance with the fieldwork. R. Gleason, D. Buhl, G. Willson, J. Larson, and two anonymous reviewers provided helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. This study was partially supported by the National Park Service, Colorado State University, the University of Wyoming, and the USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center through the Grasslands Ecosystem Initiative.


  • Badlands National Park
  • Bison
  • Black-tailed prairie dogs
  • Grazing
  • Mixed-grass prairie
  • Plant species composition
  • Seed banks


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