Comparing the effects of livestock and native herbivores on plant production and vegetation composition in the Trans-Himalayas

Sumanta Bagchi, Yash V. Bhatnagar, Mark E. Ritchie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations

Abstract

Grazing can have implications for ecosystem management, biodiversity conservation, human livelihoods and global biogeochemical cycles. Grazers can either depress or promote plant production, with weak or strong effects on vegetation composition. Such variability is a major challenge for sustaining production while avoiding undesirable vegetation shifts. It is also uncertain how knowledge obtained from native herbivores can be used to manage domestic livestock and vice versa. In addition, grazer effects on production and vegetation composition tend to vary along prominent environmental gradients and are also negatively related to each other. Here, we evaluate these patterns for both livestock and native grazers under comparable grazing intensity and evaluate competing hypotheses that can account for the negative co-variation between these two types of grazer effects. A dataset from a four-year herbivore exclusion experiment in the Trans-Himalayan ecosystem in northern India shows the following: (a) grazer effects on plant production and on vegetation composition were indeed negatively correlated, but the relationship depends on the choice of data metrics; (b) incidental autocorrelation due to an underlying soil moisture gradient does not fully explain this pattern; instead, (c) their relationship is explained by variation in local plant species richness. Vegetation responses after excluding livestock and native grazers were qualitatively similar. But, despite comparable grazing intensity, livestock had quantitatively stronger effects on plant species composition. Production in species-rich communities was more grazing-tolerant and showed greater compositional stability. So, understanding the determinants of variation in species richness and how it is, in turn, influenced by grazing can offer a framework to interpret and manage highly variable impacts of herbivores on grazing ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number21
JournalPastoralism
Volume2
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2012

Keywords

  • Grassland management
  • Grazing
  • Herbivory
  • Productivity
  • Semi-arid rangeland
  • Species diversity
  • Stability
  • Ungulates

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology

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