The Rangeland Journal The Rangeland Journal Society
Rangeland ecology and management
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Manipulating livestock grazing to enhance native plant diversity and cover in native grasslands

J. A. Mavromihalis A , J. Dorrough A B , S. G. Clark C , V. Turner A and C. Moxham A D
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, Department of Sustainability and Environment, Melbourne, Vic. 3084, Australia.

B Natural Regeneration Australia, PO Box 9103, Wyndham, NSW 2550, Australia.

C Department of Primary Industries, 915 Mount Napier Road, Hamilton, Vic. 3300, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: Claire.Moxham@dse.vic.gov.au

The Rangeland Journal 35(1) 95-108 https://doi.org/10.1071/RJ12074
Submitted: 20 September 2012  Accepted: 22 February 2013   Published: 18 March 2013

Abstract

Temperate perennial grasslands globally have been subject to extensive biodiversity loss. Identifying livestock grazing regimes that maintain and enhance the diversity and cover of native plant species in these ecosystems remains a key challenge. The responses of vegetation to different sheep grazing regimes were assessed over 3 years in grasslands of south-eastern Australia. An open communal experimental design was used to assess the effects of varying season and duration of exclusion of grazing by sheep, replicated at three locations. Manipulation of season and duration of exclusion of grazing led to few major changes in the cover of native perennial grasses or forbs, although seasonal variation was considerable. Exclusion of grazing in the spring did increase the likelihood of occurrence of grazing-sensitive native forb species but also lead to an increase in the cover of exotic annual species. However, cover of exotic annual species tended to decline with increasing duration of exclusion, while the abundance of native, grazing-sensitive forbs and the cover of perennial grasses increased. Small-scale richness of native perennial forb species increased with a 3-month period of exclusion of grazing, but declined with year-round exclusion of sheep. Total species richness also declined in response to year-round exclusion of sheep and rates of decline were correlated with the rate at which herbage mass accumulated. While strategic grazing did not result in major vegetation changes in the short term, it is suggested that some grazing exclusion may enhance the survival of infrequent species most sensitive to sheep grazing. Caution, however, should be taken when grazing regimes implemented benefit both desirable (native forbs) and undesirable (exotic annuals) species. Having a mosaic of flexible grazing management regimes across the landscape is likely to be beneficial for native plant diversity.

Additional keywords: biodiversity, conservation management, exotic species, grazing exclusion, native species, pasture, strategic grazing, temperate grassland, Themeda triandra grassland.


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