Environmental Quality and Aquatic Invertebrate Metrics Relationships at Patagonian Wetlands Subjected to Livestock Grazing Pressures.
ABSTRACT: 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: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:BACKGROUND:Knowledge of immature habitats is an important focus for investigations of mosquito community ecology, and may improve our understanding of how environmental variables increase risk of mosquito-borne diseases by influencing the distributions and abundances of species. In Patagonia region, where climatic and ecological factors could be only borderline suitable for mosquito development, relatively little is known about larval ecology. The present study focuses on associations of environmental conditions in natural aquatic habitats with abundances of mosquito species that have colonized such habitats in Patagonia. METHODS:We described the mosquito community composition within 26 natural temporary pools, and assessed the general relationships between environmental variables (pH, water temperature, conductivity, salinity, dissolved oxygen, aquatic plant cover and main nutrients) and larval abundances using redundancy analysis (RDA). Additionally, we compiled monthly climate data and vegetation indices for each larval habitat, and estimated the probability of presence for two of the most abundant species, describing through generalized linear models (GLM) the environmental, climatic and landscape variables-probability of occurrence relationships. RESULTS:Seven species belonging to the genera Culex and Aedes were identified, with Culex apicinus, Cx. acharistus and Aedes albifasciatus being the most abundant. Mean larval densities were low (6.8 ± 2.8 larvae/dip), and the highest species richness and larval densities were recorded in northern and central areas. Aedes albifasciatus, a species of sanitary importance, was widely distributed, being the only one collected south of the 45th parallel of S latitude. RDA indicated that aquatic conductivity, pH, water depth, dissolved oxygen, ammonia and soluble reactive phosphorous accounted for the main part of the variation in the species composition. According to GLMs, wind speed was the variable that best described the presence of Ae. albifasciatus, and the probability of finding this species was positively associated with high wind speed values. On the other hand, the EVI vegetation index was the only variable included in the Cx. apicinus model, whereby there was a great probability of presence in arid areas with lower EVI values. CONCLUSIONS:Our results enhance our knowledge of larval habitat ecology under the extreme environmental conditions of Patagonia and will guide future efforts to understand how multiple effects can affect mosquito ecology and public health at higher latitudes.
Project description: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:In freshwater ecosystems, species compositions are known to be determined hierarchically by large to small?scale environmental factors, based on the biological traits of the organisms. However, in ephemeral habitats this heuristic framework remains largely untested. Although temporary wetland faunas are constrained by a local filter (i.e., desiccation), we propose its magnitude may still depend on large-scale climate characteristics. If this is true, climate should be related to the degree of functional and taxonomic relatedness of invertebrate communities inhabiting seasonal wetlands. We tested this hypothesis in two ways. First, based on 52 biological traits for invertebrates, we conducted a case study to explore functional trends among temperate seasonal wetlands differing in the harshness (i.e., dryness) of their dry season. After finding evidence of trait filtering, we addressed whether it could be generalized across a broader climatic scale. To this end, a meta-analysis (225 seasonal wetlands spread across broad climatic categories: Arid, Temperate, and Cold) allowed us to identify whether an equivalent climate-dependent pattern of trait richness was consistent between the Nearctic and the Western Palearctic. Functional overlap of invertebrates increased from mild (i.e., Temperate) to harsher climates (i.e., Arid and Cold), and phylogenetic clustering (using taxonomy as a surrogate) was highest in Arid and lowest in Temperate wetlands. We show that, (i) as has been described in streams, higher relatedness than would be expected by chance is generally observed in seasonal wetland invertebrate communities; and (ii) this relatedness is not constant but climate-dependent, with the climate under which a given seasonal wetland is located determining the functional overlap and the phylogenetic clustering of the community. Finally, using a space-for-time substitution approach we suggest our results may anticipate how the invertebrate biodiversity embedded in these vulnerable and often overlooked ecosystems will be affected by long-term climate change.
Project description:Benthic fauna play a crucial role in organic matter decomposition and nutrient cycling at the sediment-water boundary in aquatic ecosystems. In terrestrial systems, grazing herbivores have been shown to influence below-ground communities through alterations to plant distribution and composition, however whether similar cascading effects occur in aquatic systems is unknown. Here, we assess the relationship between benthic invertebrates and above-ground fish grazing across the 'grazing halos' of Heron Island lagoon, Australia. Grazing halos, which occur around patch reefs globally, are caused by removal of seagrass or benthic macroalgae by herbivorous fish that results in distinct bands of unvegetated sediments surrounding patch reefs. We found that benthic algal canopy height significantly increased with distance from patch reef, and that algal canopy height was positively correlated with the abundances of only one invertebrate taxon (Nematoda). Both sediment carbon to nitrogen ratios (C:N) and mean sediment particle size (?m) demonstrated a positive correlation with Nematoda and Arthropoda (predominantly copepod) abundances, respectively. These positive correlations indicate that environmental conditions are a major contributor to benthic invertebrate community distribution, acting on benthic communities in conjunction with the cascading effects of above-ground algal grazing. These results suggest that benthic communities, and the ecosystem functions they perform in this system, may be less responsive to changes in above-ground herbivorous processes than those previously studied in terrestrial systems. Understanding how above-ground organisms, and processes, affect their benthic invertebrate counterparts can shed light on how changes in aquatic communities may affect ecosystem function in previously unknown ways.
Project description:Oxygen availability is perceived as an important environmental factor limiting POM decomposition. In shallow wetlands, however, the impact of commonly observed anoxic conditions in the benthic layer on the relative contribution of microbes and invertebrates to POM decomposition remains largely unknown. Therefore, the aim of this study was to determine if dissolved oxygen drives benthic-pelagic decomposition pathways in shallow wetlands. Dissolved oxygen concentration, invertebrate community composition, microbial decomposition and invertebrate consumption were measured in the benthic and pelagic layer of 15 permanent drainage ditches. We showed that an increased duration of anoxic conditions in the benthic layer of the ditches was related to increased microbial decomposition in this layer, while invertebrate consumption decreased in the benthic layer and increased in the pelagic layer. The increased invertebrate consumption in the pelagic layer was related to the presence of amphipods. We concluded that anoxic conditions in the benthic layer of shallow wetlands relate to an increase in microbial decomposition and a decrease in invertebrate consumption, as detritivorous invertebrates move to the pelagic layer to consume particulate organic matter. This illustrates that environmental conditions, such as dissolved oxygen, may drive the relative importance of aquatic organisms to ecosystem functioning.
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.
Project description:In semi-arid ecosystems, vegetation is heterogeneously distributed, with plant species often associating in patches. These associations between species are not constant, but depend on the particular response of each species to environmental factors. Here, we investigated how plant species associations change in response to livestock grazing in a semi-arid ecosystem, Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park in South East Spain. We established linear point-intercept transects at four sites with different grazing intensity, and recorded all species at each point. We investigated plant associations by comparing the number of times that each pair of species occurred at the same spatial point (co-occurrences), with the expected number of times based on species abundances. We also assessed associations for each shrub and grass species by considering all their pairs of associations and for the whole plant community by considering all pairs of associations on each site. At all sites, the plant community had a negative pattern of association, with fewer co-occurrences than expected. Negative association in the plant community increased at maximum grazing intensity. Most species associated as expected, particularly grass species, and positive associations were most important at intermediate grazing intensities. No species changed its type of association along the grazing gradient. We conclude that in the present plant community, grazing-resistant species compete among themselves and segregate in space. Some shrub species act as refuges for grazing-sensitive species that benefit from being spatially associated with shrub species, particularly at intermediate grazing intensities where positive associations were highest. At high grazing intensity, these shrubs can no longer persist and positive associations decrease due to the disappearance of refuges. Spatial associations between plant species and their response to grazing help identify the factors that organize plant communities, and may contribute to improving management of semi-arid ecosystems.
Project description:Tick infestation is the major problem for animal health that causes substantial economic losses, particularly in tropical and subtropical countries. To better understand the spatial distribution of tick species and risk factors associated with tick prevalence in livestock in Pakistan, ticks were counted and collected from 471 animals, including 179 cattle, 194 buffaloes, 80 goats and 18 sheep, on 108 livestock farms in nine districts, covering both semi-arid and arid agro-ecological zones.In total, 3,807 ticks representing four species were collected: Hyalomma anatolicum (n?=?3,021), Rhipicephalus microplus (n?=?715), Hyalomma dromedarii (n?=?41) and Rhipicephalus turanicus (n?=?30). The latter species is reported for the first time from the study area. Rhipicephalus microplus was the predominant species in the semi-arid zone, whereas H. anatolicum was the most abundant species in the arid zone. The overall proportion of tick-infested ruminants was 78.3% (369/471). It was highest in cattle (89.9%), followed by buffaloes (81.4%), goats (60.0%) and sheep (11.1%). The median tick burden significantly differed among animal species and was highest in cattle (median 58), followed by buffaloes (median 38), goats (median 19) and sheep (median 4.5). Female animals had significantly higher tick burdens than males and, in large ruminants, older animals carried more ticks than younger animals. The intensity of infestation was significantly lower in indigenous animals compared to exotic and crossbred cows. Analysis of questionnaire data revealed that the absence of rural poultry, not using any acaricides, traditional rural housing systems and grazing were potential risk factors associated with a higher tick prevalence in livestock farms.Absence of rural poultry, not performing acaricide treatments, traditional rural housing systems and grazing were important risk factors associated with higher tick prevalence in livestock farms. Age, gender, breed and animal species significantly affected the intensity of tick infestation. This report also describes the presence of R. turanicus in the Punjab Province of Pakistan for the first time. The outcomes of this study will be useful in the planning of integrated control strategies for ticks and tick-borne diseases in Pakistan.
Project description:Grazing areas management is of utmost importance in the Andean region. In the valleys of the Bolivian Cordillera Real near La Paz, pastoralism constitutes the traditional way for people to insure food security and economical sustainability. In these harsh mountains, unique and productive wetlands sustained by glacial water streams are of utmost importance for feeding cattle herds during the dry season. After the colonization by the Spanish, a shift in livestock species has been observed, with the introduction of exotic species such as cows and sheep, resulting in a different impact on pastures compared to native camelid species-llamas and alpacas. Here we explored some of the social-economical and environmental drivers that motivate Bolivian pastoralists to prefer exotic over native livestock species, based on 36 household surveys in the Cordillera Real. We constructed a Partial Least Squares Structural Equation Model in order to assess the relationships between these drivers. Our results suggest that the access to market influenced pastoralists to reshape their herd composition, by increasing the number of sheep. They also suggest that community size increased daily grazing time in pastures, therefore intensifying the grazing pressure. At a broader scale, this study highlights the effects of some social-economical and environmental drivers on mountain herding systems.