Make hay, not war:
Understanding the relationship between N and vegetation allows us to design feasible strategies to achieve more desirable vegetation. Current restoration management regimes rely heavily on chemical warfare and hand to hand combat to control undesirable species. However, in many cases, especially in heavy soils, the undesirable plants rapidly return to dominate, unless chemical and mechanical warfare continues unabated, forever. We should question just how sustainable or ecologically appropriate is a strategy that relies on high intensity petroleum-pesticide based management. Instead of focusing on the species we should focus on the cause.
The simplest and most efficient mechanism to mine N and encourage desirable, aka edible, configurations is through haying. Haying can be accomplished by tractors, horses, and even by hand scything. Removal of the cut biomass (hay) will decrease sunlight competition by taller plants allowing low-growth form species an opportunity to maintain community membership. Better yet, haying will mine soil nitrogen (N). Decreasing soil N will increase plant diversity (Tilman ????) and decrease the threat of invasion by weedy competitive species.
Haying at appropriate periods can enhance both spring and fall cool season communities. In heavy lowland N saturated soils, managers may need to hay aggressively during the first several years and then relax the procedure once desirable vegetation dominates the site. Proper haying can create a very diverse plant community with both warm season and cool season species. Haying coupled to Rx-fire can create extremely heterogeneous community structure. Haying reduces fuel loads and so dampens fire intensity, creating a network of patchy burns which increases spatial heterogeneity including invertebrate habitat. Burning also creates “cleaner” hay which is more valuable to herbivores. Appropriate haying coupled to burning will increase both native diversity and the quality of the hay. Quality hay is always in demand, and quality hay from prairies a buzz with pollinators sounds like a great marketing scheme for any pastured raised product. Think of the potential of restoring high quality savanna/grasslands, while creating high quality foods and fiber, while creating high quality jobs in: restoration, land management, fencing, livestock husbandry, food/fiber production, and marketing. The potential here is amazing.
Land management has two choices in addressing the increasing dominance on the landscape by nitrophilic species. We can continue with the current management strategy of focusing on the species through chemical warfare and hand to hand combat, or we can address the cause of invasion, and attempt to understand the role of excess N in determining the type of vegetation. Well designed haying management, with or without fire, will allow management to achieve a variety of functional plant communities. So we can continue our losing battle targeting undesirable species through chemical warfare and hand to hand combat, or we can deal with the causes which perpetuate undesirable biotic communities. I suggest make hay not war.
In This Series
A Plan For A Better Future: Creating a Unified Pollinator Ecology
Premise 1: Pollinators are grazers
Narrative 2: The most powerful terrestrial ecosystem on earth, the Grazing Lawn
Premise 3: Cool season species are cool too
Premise 4: Decrease grass seeding rates, but increase graminoid diversity
Premise 5: Functional groups, niche theory, and seed mix design
Premise 6: Relax the current punitive genotype restrictions
Premise 7: High density patch planting
Premise 8: Nitrogen pollution is a serious threat to pollinators
Premise 9: Make hay, not war
Premise 9: More pollinator habitat through more frequent fire.
Premise 10: Afforestation, an unknown but significant threat to pollinator survival