Native grassland species (grasses, forbs, legumes and some shrubs) are a vital part of South Dakota’s livestock industry. Native species tend to be well adapted to the soils and climate of the specific area in which they grow, and are typically less susceptible to disease, pests, drought and other ailments that can sometimes affect introduced or tame planted species.
Livestock tend to graze on all types of species, not just grasses, at various times of the year. Therefore, certain shrubs not only provide livestock forage but also provide valuable services to the grassland community by providing structure, wildlife cover, and protection to other plants and the soil by capturing snow for insulation or by intercepting rainfall. Forbs (or broadleaf plants) can also provide a major part of livestock diets while providing flowers, nectar, and habitat for pollinating insects such as butterflies and bees. These plants also help ‘complete’ the grassland plant community and may serve critical functions in water and nutrient cycling. Therefore, a good mix of a variety of native species in your pasture can not only provide nutritious forage for livestock, but also greatly benefits other natural resources such as wildlife, soil health and the water cycle.
Native grassland species are often grouped according to their response to various disturbances such as grazing pressure, wildfires, and prolonged drought. Decreaser species tend to decrease in abundance with increased disturbance. Increaser species will initially increase in abundance, but will later decrease with increased disturbance. Invader species are those that are not typically found on a specific site, and will continually increase in abundance if disturbances continue for long periods of time. Good management is essential in order to keep the wide variety of species healthy and productive on native grasslands.
The Healthy Grasslands article series is provided by the South Dakota Grassland Coalition in partnership with SDSU Extension. Contributing editors: Sandy Smart (SDSU Extension Rangeland Management Specialist), Pete Bauman (SDSU Extension Range Field Specialist), and Joshua Lefers (South Dakota Grassland Coalition Board Member, 2015–2017). © South Dakota Grassland Coalition 2017. View the full document for more information.