Larson, D.M., B.P. Grudzinski, W.K. Dodds, M. Daniels, A. Skibbe, and A. Joern. 2013. Freshwater Science 32(3):779–791.
Fire and grazers (such as Bison bison) were historically among the most important agents for maintaining and managing tallgrass prairie, but we know little about their influences on water-quality dynamics in streams. We analyzed 2 y of data on total suspended solids (TSS), total N (TN), and total P (TP) (3 samples per week per stream during flow) in 3 prairie streams with fire and bison grazing treatments at Konza Prairie Biological Station, Kansas (USA), to assess whether fire and bison increase the concentrations of these water-quality variables. We quantified the spatial and temporal locations of bison (∼0.21 animal units/ha) with Global Positioning System collars and documented bison trails, paw patches, wallows, and naturally exposed sediment patches within riparian buffers. Three weeks post-fire, TN and TP decreased (t-test, p < 0.001), but TSS did not change. Bison spent <6% of their time within 10 m of the streams, increased the amount of exposed sediment in the riparian areas, and avoided wooded mainstem branches of stream (χ2 test, p < 0.001). Temporal trends suggest that low discharge or increased bison density in the stream may increase TSS and TP during the summer months. Our results indicate a weak connection between TSS and nutrients with bison access to streams over our 2-y study and indicate that low TSS and nutrients characterize tallgrass prairie streams with fire and moderate bison densities relative to surrounding land uses.