Fire and grazing are interactive disturbance processes that are important to the structure and function of grassland ecosystems. Studies of nitrogen (N) availability report different effects following grazing and fire. However, these studies have largely neglected the spatially controlled interaction between fire and grazing. The objective of our work was to evaluate an application of the fire–grazing interaction model on N availability in a tallgrass prairie. We compared patches within a shifting mosaic landscape where each patch varied in time since focal disturbance (fire and intense grazing disturbance). We also evaluated N availability on a burned and grazed landscape where fires and moderate grazing occurred annually and uniformly across the entire landscape. These treatments were both burned and grazed where the only difference was spatial and temporal variability in fire application and grazing disturbance. Samples were collected from upland sites in May of 2003 and 2004. Total soil inorganic N (NH4 -N NO3−-N) and a growth chamber experiment with hard red winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L. cv. Jagger) were used to evaluate potential N availability. Our study produced patterns of N availability that are more similar to studies of grazing lawns where N availability is enhanced by focal grazing than from studies of fire without grazing. Overall, our study demonstrates that fire and grazing are interactive. Unburned patches have minimal grazing pressure and low N availability. Fire–grazing interaction may provide a management alternative that enables sustainable livestock production, through increased carrying capacity in focally disturbed patches, concomitant with biological diversity in tallgrass prairie.
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Vol. 59 • No. 6