Habitat Dynamics

Ken Brunson photo

Ken Brunson photo

Historically, two key forces disturbed the prairie landscape—fire and grazing.

Before Euro-American settlement, fire — ignited by lightning and by native tribes — prompted the vigorous re-sprouting of prairie vegetation. This new growth, in turn, attracted herds of large herbivores, namely bison, pronghorn, and elk. This dynamic duo of fire and grazing shaped the prairie landscape and the behavior of wildlife dependent on that landscape.

Ken Brunson

Ken Brunson photo

Lesser prairie-chickens thrive in areas where fire and grazing produce a patchy vegetation mosaic, since they need, at various times of year, areas with short-cropped vegetation, areas of tall grasses and shrubs, and areas with more forbs and fewer grasses. Within the lesser prairie-chicken’s range, researchers estimate that, prior to Euro-American settlement, a given patch of prairie burned an average of every 5 years in eastern sections of the range, and 10-20 years in the more-arid, western-most parts of the range (Hahn 2003). Burning lesser prairie-chicken habitat temporally reduces shrub and grass cover while increasing forb cover for one to two years post-fire. Insects thrive on these forbs—a boon for lesser prairie-chickens and other insect-eating prairie wildlife.

LPCI field staff work with ranchers to develop management strategies that mimic natural prairie dynamics and to implement practices that establish vegetation structure and distribution best suited for prairie-chickens.