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Increased grazing and dominance of an exotic pasture (Bothriochloa pertusa) affects vertebrate fauna species composition, abundance and habitat in savanna woodland

Kutt, Alex S., Fisher, Alaric
Rangeland journal 2011 v.33 no.1 pp. 49-58
Bothriochloa pertusa, Eucalyptus, birds, cattle, ecosystems, fauna, grasses, grazing, habitats, indigenous species, introduced species, landscapes, models, pastures, rangelands, reptiles, savannas, species diversity, trees, weeds, woodlands, Queensland
The invasion of exotic pasture species into intact woodlands has the potential to affect native fauna by altering habitat structure and ecosystem function. The spread of these weeds is generally in concert with cattle grazing, so that fauna or habitat change is due to multiple interrelated causes. In this study we investigated whether the spread of the introduced pasture grass Bothriochloa pertusa and replacement of the native bluegrass B. ewartiana in eucalypt woodlands of northern Queensland has had an effect on terrestrial vertebrate fauna. We located 40 sites that sampled a range of native and introduced pastures cover, and investigated the spatial pattern of abundance with canonical analysis of principle coordinates, and correlation of the habitat attributes on the ordination space. We then selected a subset of four habitat attributes (eliminating highly colinear variables) and modelled species response to each using an information-theoretic approach. Thirty-one species (26 birds, one mammal and four reptiles) and two summary variables (bird abundance and richness) had best subset Akaike Information Criteria models with reliable parameters estimates. Seventeen models contained the B. pertusa frequency term and a further 16 had a term relating to upper storey cover (tree cover >10, 5-10 or 3-5m). Though pasture grass cover, grazing and habitat features were correlated and thus we cannot ascribe B. pertusa as the sole determinant of fauna species change, this study has demonstrated that tropical savanna woodlands with changing Bothriochloa dominance from native to introduced species have different fauna species composition. In particular bird species richness, ground nesting species (e.g. rufous songlark Cincloramphus mathewsi, golden-headed cisticola Cisticola exilis) and terrestrial reptiles (e.g. Carlia munda and Ctenotus taeniolatus) declined. Disturbance-tolerant species such as Australian magpie Cracticus tibicen and yellow-throated miners Manorina flavigula increased in abundance in exotic pasture-dominated sites. As pastoral intensification continues in northern Australian rangelands there is a potential for significant change in the relative abundance and composition of vertebrate fauna and the reduction or loss of some species in the landscape.