Early succession plant communities consisting of a diverse mixture of grasses, forbs, and scattered shrubs are required by a variety of wildlife species. Early seral stages follow some form of disturbance but can become dominated by shrubs and trees rather quickly, especially in areas with abundant rainfall and relatively long growing seasons, such as the southeastern United States. In the absence of natural disturbance regimes, the quality and maintenance of these plant communities for wildlife is largely dependent upon management. Prescribed fire, disking, herbicide applications, and mowing are practices commonly used to maintain early succession plant communities for various wildlife species throughout this region. Prescribed fire consumes vegetative debris, provides open structure at ground level, and facilitates travel and foraging for wildlife throughout the field. Burning during the dormant season may promote cool-season grasses if they are present in the field. Burning in late March or early April generally promotes warm-season grasses and forbs. Late growing-season fire (September) will reduce woody encroachment and may encourage additional forb cover. Disking promotes vegetation decomposition, provides open structure at ground level, and generally promotes annual plant species. Disking in the fall and winter stimulates more forb growth than disking in the spring, which will stimulate undesirable nonnative warm-season grasses if present in the seedbank. Selective herbicides can influence plant composition and can be used to encourage grasses where forbs dominate, to promote forbs where grasses dominate, and to reduce woody cover. Mowing during midsummer encourages additional grasses in fields dominated by forbs but is not recommended for field maintenance because mowing produces thatch, which limits the ability of several wildlife species to travel and forage through the field, suppresses the seedbank, and destroys nests and young wildlife. Several practices can be used in combination to meet specific objectives. Succession should be set back every 2 to 4 yr, depending on plant response and focal wildlife species. It is important to intersperse disturbance in space and time, so that a variety of cover types are always available, even to those animals with small home ranges.
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Vol. 21 • No. 4