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Managing Grasslands to Maximize Migratory Shorebird Use and Livestock Production

Aldabe, Joaquín, Lanctot, Richard B., Blanco, Daniel, Rocca, Pablo, Inchausti, Pablo
Rangeland ecology & management 2019 v.72 no.1 pp. 150-159
Calidris, Pluvialis, arthropods, biomass, costs and returns, ecosystems, farmers, forests, grasses, grassland improvement, grasslands, grazing intensity, grazing management, habitat preferences, habitats, insectivores, livestock, livestock production, pastures, predation, predators, rangelands, risk, summer, wild animals, wildlife, Arctic region, North America, South America
Grasslands are important to domestic and wild animals. Migratory shorebirds are important components of coastal rangeland ecosystems. Buff-breasted Sandpiper (BBSA, Calidris subruficollis) and American golden-plover (AMGP, Pluvialis dominica) are two insectivorous, migrant shorebirds that rely on livestock-grazed grasslands in the Southern Cone of South America during their nonbreeding season, as well as on migration in North America. We studied habitat selection of these species and contrasted their needs with livestock requirements needed to develop recommendations for grazing management that benefit wildlife and livestock production. Short grass height was positively related to BBSA and AMGP abundance, with ideal grass heights from 2 to 5 cm. However, maximum livestock production is associated with grass height over 6 cm. The amount of forest cover, which is used to provide shade to livestock, was negatively related to the occurrence of both shorebird species, likely due to higher risks of predation. Grassland improvement did not affect BBSA but negatively affected AMGP abundance. Short grass habitat was selected by both shorebird species in spite of the higher arthropod biomass in taller grasslands, suggesting that other factors besides food abundance, such as the ability to detect prey and predators, are driving habitat selection. To enhance shorebird (and other wildlife) conservation and livestock production, we recommend managers adjust grazing intensity so that grass height is > 6 cm from mid-February to September, when the Nearctic migrant shorebirds are absent, and from 2 to 5 cm from October to early February when shorebirds are present. These austral summer adjustments should be restricted to paddocks with low forest cover so that livestock production in paddocks with high forest cover remains maximized. All adjustments should be evaluated by each farmer to ensure adequate economic returns are met.