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Short-duration rotational grazing leads to improvements in landscape functionality and increased perennial herbaceous plant cover

Lawrence, Rachel, Whalley, R.D.B., Reid, Nick, Rader, Romina
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2019 v.281 pp. 134-144
annuals, community structure, environmental factors, grazing intensity, grazing management, herbaceous plants, landscapes, livestock, livestock production, rain, rotational grazing
Livestock grazing can lead to reduced ground cover and altered composition of pastures through the loss of palatable forage species and reduced litter cover. This negatively impacts landscape function and ultimately livestock production. Grazing livestock for short periods with high animal density, followed by long rests to allow pasture recovery (short-duration grazing), could be a way to address these issues. In naturalised pastures, we assessed landscape functioning and compared the abundance of six major plant functional groups at 36 sites on 12 commercial grazing properties. Six of the properties had been managed with short-duration grazing for more than 7 years (in most cases over 10 years), while the six control properties were managed with grazing that was more typical of the region (relatively continuous throughout the year with unplanned rests). Under short-duration grazing, there was approximately 19% greater foliar cover of perennial herbaceous species with a corresponding 14% reduction in foliar cover of introduced annual plants. Attributes relating to biophysical functioning of the landscape were enhanced by short-duration grazing, with environmental factors less important in influencing these landscape function attributes. Higher-value forage species were also more abundant on short-duration grazing properties, especially at higher rainfall sites. Conversely, species that tend to increase under heavy grazing pressures, and are of lower forage value, were less abundant under short-duration grazing. Despite the changes in pasture composition in response to grazing management there was a large amount of unexplained variation in herbaceous community composition. This study demonstrates benefits for landscape function and naturalised pasture composition under short-duration grazing that has been in place for several years compared with more usual grazing practices.