Friday, November 9, 2012

What did bison once eat in November in Kansas?

Most people think the greatest mystery with bison is "How many bison were there before Europeans arrived"?

That number to me seems trivial. If it was 5 million or 20 million is not unimportant, but it's a quantitative question, not a qualitative question.

Today I was out at Konza today. It's November. A warm day, but almost everything is brown. A few rosette forbs were green in the uplands. Some scattered grasses and sedges in other places. Almost nothing good for bison to eat.

Except by the roadsides and some of the firebreaks. Those areas are kept mowed throughout the year and tend to be dominated by the annual grass Bromus arvensis--japanese brome.

The thing about japanese brome is that it greens up early and stays green late. It's an order of magnitude more nutritious than almost anything else out there right now.

The other cool-season grasses just aren't that similar to japanese brome. They are mostly bunch grasses and aren't green or at least vigorous throughout the Kansas winter.

As you can see, the bison really work hard to get it and it must provide an important part of their current diet. As you can hear, they really rip at the turf. The grass there might have been 15 mm tall.

The only thing is that japanese brome didn't use to be in Kansas. When it arrived is uncertain but probably not until the early 1900's.

One thing I've wondered is that if japanese brome wasn't introduced, what would the bison be eating? What would be different about our bison if the grass wasn't there?

Those are just two of the the qualitative questions I think are pretty interesting about bison these days.

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