Horses on the Prairie

    During November 2013, BRIT became the temporary home of twelve horses who helped our researchers study the impact of grazing herbivores on our restored prairie habitat. Prairies used to be home to bison, elk, deer, and other large herbivores whose hooves would aerate the soil and whose grazing habits (and ability to provide fertilizer) helped with the germination of native plants and grasses. As the horses ate down the grass, sunlight was also able to penetrate further into the foliage, which allowed new seedlings to grow and made for a healthier prairie.


    Focus

    Our original objectives for the project were to:

    • reduce the vegetation / forage cover to about 30% (70% reduction) of the amount measured prior to the arrival of the horses
    • open the ground cover to allow more sunlight at a lower level
    • convert much of the biomass into fertilizer that will increase soil carbon and nitrogen levels
    • pack in the seeds that had recently matured on the majority of prairie grasses and forbs into the pasture


    Process

    Prior to working on the prairie, we:

    • conducted an experiment that focused on the outcomes of additional types of soil and fermentation supplements
    • measured cover and species dominance over three randomly located transects
    • generated surface and aerial photographs of the prairie (the "before" pictures)
    • walked the area of the prairie, making note of the patchiness and species diversity

    Once the horses arrived, we left them undisturbed for two weeks as they lived out their daily existence on their temporary prairie home.


    Results

    After the horses left, we observed the following:

    • Cover foliage had been reduced to about 50% of the original density.
    • Most of the taller grasses and forbs had been knocked down, and some had been pulled up.
    • The grasses had been unevenly grazed. For example, patches of buffalo grass were cropped down to 2 inches with some evidence of the plants being pulled up, while other patches of buffalo grass had not been grazed at all. Similar observations were made for most species in the pasture.
    • The manure appears to have changed to a lighter color than when the horses first arrived, with fairly even-sized, firm plops.
    • Manure production was good. (If each horse produced 50 lbs per day, 12 horses x 14 days = about 8,400 lbs of fertilizer was deposited on the prairie.) Each day the horses worked for us, they processed about 600 lbs of inert cellulose that would otherwise take months to break down without the benefit of their digestive processes.
    • Seeds packed into the soil were clearly seen in all areas of the pasture.
    • There were a few exposed areas that appeared to have little vegetation. However, we know that each of these areas was there prior to the arrival of the horses but was hidden by the growth of other plants.

     

       


       

    Past Research

    BRIT staff have been involved in a variety of projects in Texas and at international sites. This section highlights many of the projects that were completed within the past fifteen years.

    Research Publications

    This is a list of titles written by BRIT's research staff and research associates over the past five years.

    Biodiversity Research

    This section highlights many of the current and ongoing projects that BRIT researchers are working on.