Main content area

Plant Community Composition After 75 Yr of Sustained Grazing Intensity Treatments in Shortgrass Steppe☆

Porensky, Lauren M., Derner, Justin D., Augustine, David J., Milchunas, Daniel G.
Rangeland ecology & management 2017 v.70 no.4 pp. 456-464
Bouteloua gracilis, annuals, botanical composition, carbon dioxide, cold season, drought tolerance, ecosystems, graminoids, grazing intensity, invasive species, livestock, long term effects, plant communities, steppes, stocking rate, weather
Plant community responses to livestock grazing lack conformity across studies, even those conducted within similar ecosystems. Variability in outcomes can often be traced back to short-termor mid-termweather patterns, differences in grazing timing or intensity, or interactive effects of management and weather. Long-term experimental data are needed to determine howgrazing intensity affects plant community composition in semiarid ecosystems where precipitation is low and highly variable. However, long-term grazing intensity experiments, particularly experiments with more than two grazing intensity treatment levels, are quite rare. We capitalized on one of the longest-term grazing studies, with 75 yr of sustained stocking rate treatments (none, light, moderate, and heavy), to identify long-term effects of livestock grazing on plant community composition in shortgrass steppe. Plant community compositionwas similar betweenmoderately and heavily grazed pastures after 75 yr of continuous, season-long (May to October) grazing treatments, and heavy grazing did not extirpate cool-season perennial graminoids. These findings support the long-termsustainability of livestock grazing in the shortgrass steppe, which has high resistance to season-long heavy grazing. Conversely, ungrazed and lightly grazed pastures experienced relatively large shifts in plant community composition, especially in the past 25 yr. Light or no grazing was associated with increased abundance of cool-season perennial graminoids, as well as several weedy and invasive species. Moreover, across most grazing treatments, several aspects of plant community composition have been shifting directionally during the past 25 yr, which recent experiments in this grassland suggest may be a response to increasing atmospheric (CO₂). The shortgrass steppe is not only tolerant of fairly high grazing intensities but also likely requires some level of grazing to resist invasion byweedy annuals and to maintain cover of blue grama, a highly drought-tolerant species.