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Bison Increase Plant Diversity, Drought Resilience in Grasslands

A Kansas State University-led study finds bison double plant diversity in a tallgrass prairie. The research involves more than 30 years of data collection and was recently published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. The study found that plant communities also were resilient to the most extreme drought in four decades. These gains are now among the largest recorded increases in species richness because of grazing in grasslands globally, researchers said. The study occurred in the Flint Hills ecoregion, the largest remaining landscape of tallgrass prairie. Researchers examined plant community composition and diversity in three treatments that were designed to capture characteristic management regimes: no mega-grazers were present, bison were reintroduced and allowed to graze year-round, or domestic cattle were introduced and allowed to graze during the growing season. The study also found cattle have a positive impact on plant diversity, compared to having no large grazers present, although increases in plant species richness were significantly smaller than those caused by bison.


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