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The more the merrier? Multi-species grazing of small herbivores mediates plant community impacts

Qu, Jiapeng, Ji, Weihong, Russell, James C., Zhang, He, Zhang, Yanming
Biodiversity and conservation 2016 v.25 no.11 pp. 2055-2069
Marmota himalayana, Ochotonidae, biodiversity, ecological restoration, ecosystems, grasslands, grazing, herbivores, local government, people, pests, plant communities, plateaus, vegetation cover, vegetation structure, China
Small herbivores play keystone functional roles in grassland ecosystems. Recognising the combined effects where herbivores co-exist is important for guiding grassland restoration and biodiversity conservation. On the Tibetan Plateau, both plateau pikas and Himalayan marmots are regarded as pests by Tibetan people and local government, but little is known about their combined effects. We conducted a field study to determine the combined effects of pikas and marmots on plant biodiversity and vegetation structure. Plateau pikas alone consistently reduced the plant height and diversity and increased the vegetation cover of physically unpalatable plants. However, the co-existence of marmots with pikas decreased the vegetation cover of physically unpalatable plants, while increasing the cover of palatable plants and plant diversity, ultimately changing the impact of pikas alone and modulating aspects of the plant community. These results illustrate that increasing the abundance and richness of small herbivores in grassland ecosystems may promote plant diversity and benefit vegetation restoration rather than aggravate the degradation of grasslands.