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The Center for Native Grasslands Management

Title: Pyric herbivory: rewilding landscapes through the recoupling of fire and grazing
Year: 2009
Author(s): Fuhlendorf, S. D., Engle, D. M., Kerby, J., Hamilton, R.
Source Title: Conservation Biology
Source Type: Journal
pages: 588-598
Original Publication: http://  
Abstract: Our understanding of fire and grazing is largely based on small-scale experimental studies in which treatments are uniformly applied to experimental units that are considered homogenous. Any discussion of an interaction between fire and grazing is usually based on a statistical approach that ignores the spatial and temporal interactions on complex landscapes. We propose a new focus on the ecological interaction of fire and grazing in which each disturbance is spatially and temporally dependent on the other and results in a landscape where disturbance is best described as a shifting mosaic (a landscape with patches that vary with time since disturbance) that is critical to ecological structure and function of many ecosystems. We call this spatiotemporal interaction pyric herbivory (literal interpretation means grazing driven by fire). Pyric herbivory is the spatial and temporal interaction of fire and grazing, where positive and negative feedbacks promote a shifting pattern of disturbance across the landscape.We present data we collected from the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in the southern Great Plains of North America that demonstrates that the interaction between free-roaming bison (Bison bison) and random fires promotes heterogeneity and provides the foundation for biological diversity and ecosystem function of North American and African grasslands. This study is different from other studies of fire and grazing because the fires we examined were random and grazing animals were free to roam and select from burned and unburned patches. For ecosystems across the globe with a long history of fire and grazing, pyric herbivory with any grazing herbivore is likely more effective at restoring evolutionary disturbance patterns than a focus on restoring any large vertebrate while ignoring the interaction with fire and other disturbances.