Bison and cattle grazing impacts on grassland stream morphology in the Flint Hills of Kansas

350 263 Stroud Water Research Center

Grudzinski, B.P., and M.D. Daniels. 2018. Rangeland Ecology & Management 71(6):783–791.


Despite a shift from yr-round bison grazing throughout the Great Plains before European settlement to extensive seasonal cattle grazing, little is known about ungulate grazing impacts on grassland streams. In this study we 1) determine whether grazing management is a significant driver of grassland stream morphology within the Flint Hills Ecoregion (Kansas, United States); 2) determine if yr-round bison grazing (the precolonial condition) and seasonal cattle grazing (the currently dominant grazing practice in the region) result in distinct stream morphology; and 3) determine if the introduction of cattle into ungrazed watersheds produces significant changes to channel morphology. We use a replicated watershed-scale study design and survey 17 streams across four grazing treatments (ungrazed, long-term bison grazed [yr-round], long-term cattle grazed [seasonal], and newly cattle grazed [seasonal]). Baseline geomorphic surveys were completed in 2010 following consistent grazing management since 1992, and resurveys were completed in 2011 and 2013 to determine short-term grazing impacts. Under the conditions of the experiment, we did not detect significant differences (P > 0.10) in channel morphology or stream bed substrate size among grazing treatments following nearly 2 decades of consistent grazing management. Cattle introduction into ungrazed watersheds resulted in modest (P < 0.05) stream widening (0.19 m, 3.9%) following two grazing seasons. Bison grazed watersheds also experienced modest (P < 0.05) stream widening (0.20 m, 5.1%) during the resurvey period. Stream widening from 2010 to 2013 within newly cattle-grazed and long-term bison-grazed treatments indicates that cattle and bison are capable of producing moderate alterations to grassland stream morphology over short time periods. However, longer time periods containing more diverse hydrologic conditions may be necessary to generate larger geomorphic changes between surveys. Although we detected modest changes to stream morphology in response to grazing over short time periods, overall, stream morphology does not vary among grazing treatments in the study area.