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Understanding Grassland Terminology

Understanding Grassland Terminology

By Alexander Smart

The first article of this series introduced the reader to the South Dakota Grassland Coalition, and the upcoming articles will discuss various aspects of grassland management. In order to prepare the reader for the series, we’ve compiled a list of common terminology used in the grassland management and conservation arena.

Common Grassland Terms

  • Buffers – Living filters. Most are relatively narrow strips of land featuring a permanent cover of plants, including grass, shrubs and/or trees. They protect elements of the natural environment, such as streams or lakes, or man-made structures, such as buildings or roads, from damage.

  • Carrying capacity – The maximum stocking rate possible without inducing permanent or long-term damage to vegetation or related resources. The rate may vary from year to year in the same area as a result of changes in forage production.

  • Continuous grazing – A one-pasture system that allows livestock to continually graze on a large section of land.

  • Cool-season plants – Plants that make most of their growth and flowers during spring and early summer, then slow growth or become dormant during the hot part of summer and may resume growth in the fall with the advent of cooler temperatures; has value in grazing management.

  • Decreaser – Plant species that is part of the natural vegetation that decreases in relative abundance with grazing pressure, fire, drought or other continued disturbance.

  • Deferment – A non-grazing period that encompasses the time from a key species breaking of dormancy in the spring until it sets seed later in the growing season.

  • Diversity – A measure of the number of species and their relative abundance in a community; a variety of living things.

  • Erosion – The detachment and movement of soil or rock fragments by water, wind, ice or gravity.

  • Forage – Browse and herbage that is available and acceptable food to grazing animals, or that can be harvested for feeding purposes.

  • Grassland – Any land on which grasses are the dominant plants; may be naturally occurring (native) or cultivated.

  • Grazing management – Manipulation of grazing and browsing animals to accomplish a desired result.

  • Habitat – A place that provides the resources for a plant or animal to meet certain life needs, such as a prairies, marshes or woodlands.

  • Harvest efficiency – The total percent of vegetation harvested by a machine or ingested by a grazing animal compared to the total amount of vegetation grown in the area in a given year.

  • Increaser – Plant species that is part of the natural vegetation and increases in relative abundance, at least for a time, under continued disturbances like grazing, fire or drought.

  • Introduced species – Species that is not part of the natural fauna or flora of the area in question. In general, from a different continent.

  • Livestock – Domestic animals used for the production of goods and services.

  • Management-intensive grazing – A grazing system that utilizes multiple pastures and frequent rotation of livestock, resulting in long rest periods for grasses and high forage production.

  • Native species – Species that are part of the natural fauna or flora of an area. In general, from the same continent.

  • Overgrazing – Grazing that exceeds the recovery capacity of the individual species or the plant community.

  • Rest – A full calendar year period of no grazing.

  • Riparian area – An area, zone and/or habitat adjacent to streams, lakes or other natural, free water, which has predominant influence on associated vegetation or biotic communities.

  • Rotational grazing – A grazing system that utilizes more than one pasture and rotates cattle from one pasture to the next at varying intervals.

  • Shrub – A plant that has persistent, woody stems, a relatively low-growth habit and generally produces several shoots at the base instead of a single trunk. A shrub differs from a tree in its low stature and form. Maximum height is generally four meters.

  • Stocking density/rate – The relationship between number of animals and area of land at any instant of time. (Also see carrying capacity).

  • Warm-season plants – Plants that make most or all of their growth during the late spring and summer, flowering in the summer or autumn; has value in grazing management.

  • Weeds – Plants that grow unabated, often introduced and aggressive competitors; are troublesome or have a negative impact in natural plant communities or cropland.

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