Interactions of grazing history, cattle removal and time since rain drive divergent short-term responses by desert biota.
ABSTRACT: Arid grasslands are used worldwide for grazing by domestic livestock, generating debate about how this pastoral enterprise may influence native desert biota. One approach to resolving this question is to experimentally reduce livestock numbers and measure the effects. However, a key challenge in doing this is that historical grazing impacts are likely to be cumulative and may therefore confound comparisons of the short-term responses of desert biota to changes in stocking levels. Arid areas are also subject to infrequent flooding rainfalls that drive productivity and dramatically alter abundances of flora and fauna. We took advantage of an opportunity to study the recent effects of a property-scale cattle removal on two properties with similarly varied grazing histories in central Australia. Following the removal of cattle in 2006 and before and after a significant rainfall event at the beginning of 2007, we sampled vegetation and small vertebrates on eight occasions until October 2008. Our results revealed significant interactions of time of survey with both grazing history and grazing removal for vascular plants, small mammals and reptiles. The mammals exhibited a three-way interaction of time, grazing history and grazing removal, thus highlighting the importance of careful sampling designs and timing for future monitoring. The strongest response to the cessation of grazing after two years was depressed reproductive output of plants in areas where cattle continued to graze. Our results confirm that neither vegetation nor small vertebrates necessarily respond immediately to the removal of livestock, but that rainfall events and cumulative grazing history are key determinants of floral and faunal performance in grassland landscapes with low and variable rainfall. We suggest that improved assessments could be made of the health of arid grazing environments if long-term monitoring were implemented to track the complex interactions that influence how native biota respond to grazing.
Project description:Changes in rainfall regime and grazing pressure affect vegetation composition and diversity with ecological implications for savannahs. The savannah in East Africa has experienced increased livestock grazing and rainfall variability but the impacts associated with those changes on the herbaceous layer have rarely been documented. We investigated the effect of livestock grazing, rainfall manipulation and their interaction on the composition and diversity of the herbaceous community in the savannah for two years in Lambwe, Kenya. Rainfall manipulation plots were set up for vegetation sampling; these plots received either 50% more or 50% less rainfall than control plots. Simpson's diversity and Berger-Parker indices were used to determine diversity changes and dominance respectively. The frequency of species was used to compute their abundance and their life forms as determined from the literature. Grazing significantly increased species diversity through suppression of dominant species. Rainfall manipulation had no significant impact on plant diversity in fenced plots, but rainfall reduction significantly reduced diversity in grazed plots. In contrast, rainfall manipulation had no impact on dominance in either fenced or grazed plots. The interaction of grazing and rainfall manipulation is complex and will require additional survey campaigns to create a complete picture of the implications for savannah structure and composition.
Project description:Dormant season livestock grazing reduces reliance on harvested feeds, but typically requires protein supplementation to maintain animal performance. Individual variation in supplement intake can impact animal performance; however, it is unknown if this variation leads to individual or herd-level effects on grazing behavior, resource utilization, and grazing impacts to native rangelands. To examine effects of protein supplementation on dormant season cattle resource use and, subsequently, post-grazing habitat conditions, we examined cattle grazing behavior, resource utilization and biomass removal of vegetation on a native rangeland in Montana. A commercial herd of 272 (yr 1) and 302 (yr 2) cows grazed a 329-ha rangeland pasture from November to January. Intake of a 30% crude protein supplement was measured for each individual. Five individuals within each of six age groups were equipped with GPS collars. Time spent grazing declined with supplement intake ([Formula: see text] = -0.05 ± 0.02; P < 0.01). Distance traveled per day had a positive asymptotic association with supplement intake ([Formula: see text] = 0.35 ± 0.09; P < 0.01). On average, resource utilization by cattle grazing dormant season forage decreased with terrain ruggedness ([Formula: see text] = -0.09 ± 0.03), but was unrelated to aspect, temperature and wind speed. Notably, we observed high individual variability in resource utilization for elevation, distance from supplement and water. A post-hoc analysis suggested that individual attributes (age, body weight, supplement intake) influenced cattle resource use. At moderate stocking rates, dormant season livestock grazing did not affect residual vegetation conditions (P values > 0.22). However, residual cover of forbs and litter increased with relative grazing intensity ([Formula: see text] = 1.04 ± 0.41; [Formula: see text] = 3.06 ± 0.89; P ? 0.05). In summary, high individual variability in grazing resource utilization of cattle suggests individual-level factors could be the dominant drivers in grazing behavior and landscape use.
Project description:Riparian and aquatic habitats support biodiversity and key environmental processes in semi-arid and arid landscapes, but stressors such as conventional livestock grazing, wildfire, and drought can degrade their condition. To enhance habitat for fish and wildlife and increase resiliency in these critical areas, land managers in the interior western United States increasingly use alternative grazing strategies, beaver management, or beaver dam surrogates as low-effort, low-expense restoration approaches. In this study we used historical archives of satellite and aerial imagery spanning three decades to characterize riparian vegetation productivity and document beaver dam occurrences, then evaluated vegetation productivity relative to land management associated with livestock grazing and beaver dam densities while accounting for climate and wildfire. After controlling for stream characteristics such as stream size, elevation, and stream slope, we demonstrate a positive response of riparian area vegetation to conservation-oriented grazing approaches and livestock exclosures, extensive beaver dam development, increased precipitation, and lack of wildfire. We show that livestock management which emphasizes riparian recovery objectives can be an important precursor to beaver activity and describe 11-39% increases in floodplain vegetation productivity where conservation-oriented grazing approaches or livestock exclosures and high beaver activity occur together on low-gradient sites. Land management decisions can therefore potentially confer resiliency to riparian areas under changing and variable climate conditions-the increased vegetation productivity resulting from conservation-oriented grazing or exclosures and high amounts of beaver activity at our sites is the equivalent to moving conventionally-grazed, low-gradient sites without beaver up at least 250 m in elevation or increasing water year precipitation by at least 250 mm.
Project description:Shrub encroachment into arid grasslands has been associated with reduced grass abundance, increased soil erosion, and local declines in biodiversity. Livestock overgrazing and the associated reduction of fine fuels has been a primary driver of shrub encroachment in the southwestern United States, but shrublands continue to persist despite livestock removal and grassland restoration efforts. We hypothesized that an herbivory feedback from native mammals may contribute to continued suppression of grasses after the removal of livestock. Our herbivore exclusion experiment in southeastern Arizona included five treatment levels and allowed access to native mammals based on their relative body size, separating the effects of rodents, lagomorphs, and mule deer. We included two control treatments and replicated each treatment 10 times (n = 50). We introduced uniform divisions of lawn sod (Cynodon dactylon) into each exclosure for 24-hr periods prior to (n = 2) and following (n = 2) the monsoon rains and used motion-activated cameras to document herbivore visitations. In the pre-monsoon trials, treatments that allowed lagomorph access had less sod biomass relative to other treatments (p < 0.001), averaging 44% (SD 36%) and 29% (SD 45%) remaining biomass after the 24-hr trial periods. Following the onset of monsoons, differences in remaining biomass among treatments disappeared. Desert cottontails (Sylvilagus audubonii) were detected more frequently than any of the other 11 herbivore species present at the site, accounting for 83% of detections during the pre-monsoon trials. Significantly more (p < 0.001) desert cottontails were detected during the pre-monsoon trials (2,077) compared to the post-monsoon trials (174), which coincided with biomass removal from lagomorph accessible treatments. We conclude that desert cottontails are significant consumers of herbaceous vegetation in shrub-encroached arid grasslands and they, along with other native herbivores, may act as a biotic feedback contributing to the competitive advantage and persistence of shrubs.
Project description:Conservation grazing for breeding birds needs to balance the positive effects on vegetation structure and negative effects of nest trampling. In the UK, populations of Common redshank <i>Tringa totanus</i> breeding on saltmarshes declined by >50% between 1985 and 2011. These declines have been linked to changes in grazing management. The highest breeding densities of redshank on saltmarshes are found in lightly grazed areas. Conservation initiatives have encouraged low-intensity grazing at <1 cattle/ha, but even these levels of grazing can result in high levels of nest trampling. If livestock distribution is not spatially or temporally homogenous but concentrated where and when redshank breed, rates of nest trampling may be much higher than expected based on livestock density alone. By GPS tracking cattle on saltmarshes and monitoring trampling of dummy nests, this study quantified (i) the spatial and temporal distribution of cattle in relation to the distribution of redshank nesting habitats and (ii) trampling rates of dummy nests. The distribution of livestock was highly variable depending on both time in the season and the saltmarsh under study, with cattle using between 3% and 42% of the saltmarsh extent and spending most their time on higher elevation habitat within 500 m of the sea wall, but moving further onto the saltmarsh as the season progressed. Breeding redshank also nest on these higher elevation zones, and this breeding coincides with the early period of grazing. Probability of nest trampling was correlated to livestock density and was up to six times higher in the areas where redshank breed. This overlap in both space and time of the habitat use of cattle and redshank means that the trampling probability of a nest can be much higher than would be expected based on standard measures of cattle density. <i>Synthesis and applications</i>: Because saltmarsh grazing is required to maintain a favorable vegetation structure for redshank breeding, grazing management should aim to keep livestock away from redshank nesting habitat between mid-April and mid-July when nests are active, through delaying the onset of grazing or introducing a rotational grazing system.
Project description:The widespread encroachment of woody plants throughout the semi-arid grasslands in North America has largely resulted from overgrazing by domestic livestock, fire suppression, and loss of native large and small mammalian herbivores. Burrowing-herbivorous mammals, such as prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.), help control shrub encroachment through clipping of shrubs and consumption of their seedlings, but little is known about how this important ecological role interacts with and may be influenced by co-existing large herbivores, especially domestic livestock. Here, we established a long-term manipulative experiment using a 2 × 2 factorial design to assess the independent and interactive effects of black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) and cattle (Bos taurus) on honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) abundance and structure. We found that, after five years, mesquite abundance was three to five times greater in plots where prairie dogs were removed compared to plots where they occurred together or alone, respectively. While both prairie dogs and cattle reduced mesquite cover, the effect of prairie dogs on reducing mesquite abundance, cover, and height was significantly greater than that by cattle. Surprisingly, cattle grazing enhanced prairie dog abundance, which, in turn, magnified the effects of prairie dogs on mesquite shrubs. Mesquite canopy cover per hectare was three to five times greater where prairie dogs and cattle were absent compared to where they occurred together or by themselves; whereas, cumulative mesquite height was two times lower on sites where prairie dog and cattle occurred together compared to where they occurred alone or where neither occurred. Data from our experimental study demonstrate that prairie dogs and moderate grazing by cattle can suppress mesquite growth, and, when their populations are properly managed, they may interact synergistically to significantly limit mesquite encroachment in desert grasslands.
Project description:Rising temperatures due to climate change are pushing the thermal limits of many species, but how climate warming interacts with other anthropogenic disturbances such as land use remains poorly understood. To understand the interactive effects of climate warming and livestock grazing on water temperature in three high elevation meadow streams in the Golden Trout Wilderness, California, we measured riparian vegetation and monitored water temperature in three meadow streams between 2008 and 2013, including two "resting" meadows and one meadow that is partially grazed. All three meadows have been subject to grazing by cattle and sheep since the 1800s and their streams are home to the imperiled California golden trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita). In 1991, a livestock exclosure was constructed in one of the meadows (Mulkey), leaving a portion of stream ungrazed to minimize the negative effects of cattle. In 2001, cattle were removed completely from two other meadows (Big Whitney and Ramshaw), which have been in a "resting" state since that time. Inside the livestock exclosure in Mulkey, we found that riverbank vegetation was both larger and denser than outside the exclosure where cattle were present, resulting in more shaded waters and cooler maximal temperatures inside the exclosure. In addition, between meadows comparisons showed that water temperatures were cooler in the ungrazed meadows compared to the grazed area in the partially grazed meadow. Finally, we found that predicted temperatures under different global warming scenarios were likely to be higher in presence of livestock grazing. Our results highlight that land use can interact with climate change to worsen the local thermal conditions for taxa on the edge and that protecting riparian vegetation is likely to increase the resiliency of these ecosystems to climate change.
Project description:Over eight years we measured the effects of plant community composition, vegetation structure, and livestock grazing on occurrence of three grassland bird species-Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta), Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris), and Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum)-at sites in central California during breeding season. In California's Mediterranean-type climatic region, coastal and inland grassland vegetation is dominated by exotic annual grasses with occasional patches of native bunchgrass and forbs. Livestock grazing, primarily with beef cattle, is the most widely used management tool. Compared with ungrazed plots, grazed plots had higher bare ground, native plant cover, and vertically heterogeneous vegetation. Grazed plots also had less plant litter and shorter vegetation. Higher native plant cover, which is predominantly composed of bunchgrasses in our study area, was associated with livestock grazing and north-facing aspects. Using an information theoretic approach, we found that all three bird species had positive associations with native plant abundance and neutral (Western Meadowlark, Grasshopper Sparrow) or positive (Horned Lark) association with livestock grazing. All species favored flatter areas. Horned Larks and Western Meadowlark occurred more often where there were patches of bare ground. Western Meadowlarks and Grasshopper Sparrows were most common on north-facing slopes, suggesting that these species may be at risk from projected climate change. These findings demonstrate that livestock grazing is compatible with or supports grassland bird conservation in Mediterranean-type grasslands, including areas with high levels of exotic annual grass invasion, in part because grazing supports the persistence of native plants and heterogeneity in vegetation structure. However, conservation of low-lying grasslands with high native species presence, and active management to increase the abundance of native plant species are also likely to be important for sustaining grassland birds long-term.
Project description:Livestock grazing can compromise the biotic integrity and health of wetlands, especially in remotes areas like Patagonia, which provide habitat for several endemic terrestrial and aquatic species. Understanding the effects of these land use practices on invertebrate communities can help prevent the deterioration of wetlands and provide insights for restoration. In this contribution, we assessed the responses of 36 metrics based on the structural and functional attributes of invertebrates (130 taxa) at 30 Patagonian wetlands that were subject to different levels of livestock grazing intensity. These levels were categorized as low, medium and high based on eight features (livestock stock densities plus seven wetland measurements). Significant changes in environmental features were detected across the gradient of wetlands, mainly related to pH, conductivity, and nutrient values. Regardless of rainfall gradient, symptoms of eutrophication were remarkable at some highly disturbed sites. Seven invertebrate metrics consistently and accurately responded to livestock grazing on wetlands. All of them were negatively related to increased levels of grazing disturbance, with the number of insect families appearing as the most robust measure. A multivariate approach (RDA) revealed that invertebrate metrics were significantly affected by environmental variables related to water quality: in particular, pH, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, nutrient concentrations, and the richness and coverage of aquatic plants. Our results suggest that the seven aforementioned metrics could be used to assess ecological quality in the arid and semi-arid wetlands of Patagonia, helping to ensure the creation of protected areas and their associated ecological services.
Project description:Understanding the responses of vegetation characteristics and soil properties to grazing in different precipitation regimes is useful for the management of rangelands, especially in the arid regions. In northeastern Iran, we studied the responses of vegetation to livestock grazing in three regions with different climates: arid, semiarid, and subhumid. In each region, we selected 6-7 pairwise sampling areas of high versus low grazing intensity and six traits of the present species were recorded on 1 m2 plots-five grazed and five ungrazed in each area. The overall fertility was compared using the dissimilarity analysis, and linear mixed-effect models were used to compare the individual fertility parameters, functional diversity indices, and species traits between the plots with high and low grazing intensity and between the climatic regions. Both climate and grazing, as well as their interaction, affected fertility parameters, functional diversity indices, and the representation of species traits. Grazing reduced functional evenness, height of the community, the representation of annuals, but increased the community leaf area. In the subhumid region, grazing also reduced functional richness. Further, grazing decreased the share of annual species in the semiarid region and seed mass in the arid region. Larger leaf area and seed mass, smaller height and lower share of annuals were associated with intensive grazing. Species with large LA and seed mass, lower height and perennials can be therefore presumed to tolerate trampling and benefit from high nutrient levels, associated with intensive grazing. By providing a detailed view on the impacts of overgrazing, this study highlights the importance of protection from grazing as an effective management tool for maintaining the pastoral ecosystems. In general, the composition of plant traits across the pastures of northeastern Iran was more affected by intensive grazing than by the differences in climate.