Grassland plant composition alters vehicular disturbance effects in Kansas, USA

Timothy L. Dickson, Brian J. Wilsey, Ryan R. Busby, Dick L. Gebhart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Many "natural" areas are exposed to military or recreational off-road vehicles. The interactive effects of different types of vehicular disturbance on vegetation have rarely been examined, and it has been proposed that some vegetation types are less susceptible to vehicular disturbance than others. At Fort Riley, Kansas, we experimentally tested how different plant community types changed after disturbance from an M1A1 Abrams tank driven at different speeds and turning angles during different seasons. The greatest vegetation change was observed because of driving in the spring in wet soils and the interaction of turning while driving fast (vegetation change was measured with Bray-Curtis dissimilarity). We found that less vegetation change occurred in communities with high amounts of native prairie vegetation than in communities with high amounts of introduced C 3 grasses, which is the first experimental evidence we are aware of that suggests plant communities dominated by introduced C 3 grasses changed more because of vehicular disturbance than communities dominated by native prairie grasses. We also found that vegetation changed linearly with vehicular disturbance intensity, suggesting that at least initially there was no catastrophic shift in vegetation beyond a certain disturbance intensity threshold. Overall, the intensity of vehicular disturbance appeared to play the greatest role in vegetation change, but the plant community type also played a strong role and this should be considered in land use planning. The reasons for greater vegetation change in introduced C 3 grass dominated areas deserve further study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)676-684
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Management
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Catastrophic shift
  • Military lands
  • Species composition
  • Vegetation change

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Pollution


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