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Long-term livestock grazing alters aspen age structure in the northwestern Great Basin
- Beschta, Robert L., Boone Kauffman, J., Dobkin, David S., Ellsworth, Lisa M.
- Forest ecology and management 2014 v.329 pp. 30-36
- Populus tremuloides, age structure, atmospheric precipitation, basins, climatic factors, demography, drought, ecosystem services, grazing, herbivores, livestock, riparian areas, species recruitment, temperature, ungulates, woodlands, Western United States
- We determined the age structure of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) over the period 1850–2009 in Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge riparian areas to evaluate potential influences of (a) livestock herbivory and (b) climate on aspen demography. We found a significant decline in aspen recruitment (p<0.05) in the late 1800s, coincident with the onset of high levels of Euro-American livestock grazing. Although livestock use was regulated following establishment of the refuge in 1936, low levels of aspen recruitment continued. After termination of livestock grazing in 1990, aspen recruitment on the refuge increased (p<0.05) by more than an order of magnitude in comparison to levels occurring during the previous half-century of regulated grazing. Climate variables (i.e., Palmer Drought Severity Index, annual precipitation, and annual temperature) appeared to have little influence on long-term patterns of aspen recruitment. Overall, results are consistent with top–down forcing by livestock herbivory as the major factor associated with a century of reduced aspen recruitment on HMNAR. Where long-term declines in aspen are currently underway on grazed lands in the western US, land managers need to carefully consider the potential effects of livestock and alter, as needed, management of these ungulates to ensure retention of aspen woodlands and their ecosystem services.