Agronomy and Horticulture Department


First Advisor

Dirac Twidwell

Second Advisor

Craig Allen

Date of this Version



Ludwig, Alison K. American Burying Beetle, Plant Richness, and Soil Property Responses to Collapse of Juniperus virginiana Woodlands with Fire. 2021. University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Master's thesis.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Science, Major: Agronomy, Under the Supervision of Professors Dirac Twidwell and Craig R. Allen. Lincoln, Nebraska: December 2021

Copyright © 2021 Alison K. Ludwig


Grasslands are declining in the Great Plains due to land use changes, woody plant encroachment, and loss of historic fire cycles. Prescribed burn associations have utilized prescribed fire to collapse invading woodlands and allow the restoration of grasslands. This fire is considered “extreme” because it is capable of changing the structure and function of an ecosystem. Our study site is the Loess Canyons Experimental Landscape, a long-term, ecoregion-scale experiment to apply prescribed fire across the region to restore grasslands. The Nebraska Natural Legacy Project established the Loess Canyons ecoregion as a Biologically-Unique Landscape in 2005 with the state’s wildlife action plan to stop habitat loss due to woody encroachment and prevent reductions in the federally-threatened American burying beetle. We use 13 years of beetle monitoring data and multi-spatial landcover data of perennial forbs/grasses, trees, croplands, and litter in a Bayesian N-mixture model to estimate the relative abundance of ABB at permanent trapping locations. We use the Bayesian latent indicator scale selection method to select the best-performing spatial scale for each landcover type in the model. We apply a space-for-time substitution design across the Loess Canyons to allow sampling across a time-since-fire gradient of 17 years. We sample herbaceous plant richness, basal percent cover, soil compaction, and infiltration rates in grasslands restored with fire, uninvaded grasslands, and unburned woodland. We apply an NMDS analysis to examine changes in functional groups over time among sites. The abundance and distribution of the ABB in the Loess Canyons is mapped with the four landcover types. This study is the first to document increases in the ABB due to management with fire. ABB are positively associated with perennial forbs/grasses, and negatively associated with trees at >10% cover and cropland at 0.5% cover. Herbaceous species richness and basal cover in grasslands restored with extreme fire are comparable to uninvaded grasslands. Soil compaction and infiltration rates are similar between restored grasslands and uninvaded grasslands. Extreme prescribed fire restores ABB habitat and herbaceous plant communities that were lost to woody encroachment. Soil properties are not adversely impacted by fire, a positive outcome for the soil-dwelling American burying beetle.

Adviser(s): Dirac Twidwell and Craig R. Allen