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Woody plant encroachment

Predicting how ecosystems will respond to forecast environmental changes and to evaluate the consequences of those responses is a major challenge for ecologists today. One of the most prevalent contemporary land-cover changes is woody plant encroachment into grasslands and increased cover of shrubs and trees in grasslands and savannas. Causes of increased woody plant abundance may vary in different grasslands, and some likely factors include increased grazing intensity, alterations in local land management practices, and rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

Briggs, J.M., A.K. Knapp, J.M. Blair, J.L. Heisler, G.A. Hoch, M.S. Lett, and J.K. McCarron. 2005. An ecosystem in transition: causes and consequences of the conversion of mesic grassland to shrubland. BioScience 55:243-254.
Knapp, A.K., J.M. Briggs, S.L. Collins, S.R. Archer, M.S. Bret-Harte, B.E. Ewers, D.P. Peters, D.R. Young, G.R. Shaver, E. Pendall, and M.B. Cleary. 2008. Shrub encroachment in North American grasslands: Shifts in growth form dominance rapidly alters control of ecosystem carbon inputs. Global Change Biology 14:615-623.
McNew, L.B., T.J. Prebyl, and B.K. Sandercock. 2012. Effects of rangeland management on the site occupancy dynamics of prairie-chickens in a protected prairie preserve. Journal of Wildlife Management 76:38-47.
Ratajczak, Z., J.B. Nippert, and S.L. Collins. 2012. Woody encroachment decreases diversity across North American grasslands and savannas. Ecology 93: 697-703.
John M. Briggs
Photograph of an experimental watershed on Konza Prairie that has been burned every four years in spring since 1971. Note the high abundance and cover of several woody shrub species. Low and Intermediate fire frequencies allow for rapid increases in woody plant cover in these grasslands, with significant impacts on biodiversity, grassland consumers, and ecosystem processes. 6/2004
John Briggs

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