Altered herbivore distribution associated with focal disturbance

Ryan F. Limb, David M. Engle, Samuel D. Fuhlendorf, Donald P. Althoff, Philip S. Gipson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations

Abstract

Natural disturbances historically created structurally diverse patterns across the landscape, and large herbivores concentrated herbivory in areas where disturbance decreased standing senesced biomass that acted as a grazing deterrent through decreased palatability and overall forage quality. However, following European settlement, many natural large-scale disturbance regimes that influence vegetation and herbivore grazing selection were altered or removed and replaced with fine-scale anthropogenic disturbances. It is unclear how fine-scale focal disturbance and alteration of vegetation structure influences livestock distribution and grazing. Therefore we used a tracked vehicle as a disturbance agent in a mesic mixed-grass prairie to assess the influence of focal anthropogenic disturbance on livestock distribution and grazing. Track vehicle disturbance decreased the height of vegetation (P<0.05) but did not alter plant species composition (P>0.05). Cattle fecal pat density was greater (P≤0.05) in locations with track vehicle disturbance. Little bluestem tiller height was shorter (P≤0.05) in tracked locations than nontracked locations in grazed treatments, but was not different in nongrazed locations the first growing season following disturbance. Fecal pat density and tiller height were not different (P>0.05) between tracked and nontracked locations following the second growing season. Therefore, we concluded that fine-scale focal anthropogenic disturbance alters herbivore distribution and defoliation and can maintain structural heterogeneity, but the effect is ephemeral and does not create long-lasting grazing lawns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-257
Number of pages5
JournalRangeland Ecology and Management
Volume63
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2010

Keywords

  • anthropogenic disturbance
  • heterogeneity
  • tracked vehicles
  • vegetation structure

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