The University of Arizona

Riparian vegetation response to different intensities and seasons of grazing

Richard W. Lucas, Terrell T. Baker, M. Karl Wood, Christopher D. Allison, Dawn M. Vanleeuwen


Sustainable management of riparian ecosystems depends on our understanding of these complex systems. Thus far, the scientific literature has not adequately addressed the effects of livestock grazing on riparian areas in the American southwest. Most available information is observational, anecdotal, based on unreplicated experiments, or compares heavily grazed areas to areas from which livestock have been completely excluded. This study, in the Black Range of western New Mexico, compared effects of different seasons of use (cool season, warm season, and dormant season) and grazing intensities (light, moderate, and none) of cattle on young narrowleaf cottonwood (Populus angustifolia James) populations, and herbaceous vegetation in 2 adjacent southwestern riparian areas. Cottonwoods in lightly grazed and moderately grazed plots received significantly greater use than cottonwoods in ungrazed plots which experienced negligible grazing pressure. Increased grazing pressure did not have significant impacts on cottonwood populations. Effects of season of use were significant on both herbaceous species richness and diversity. We conclude that no single riparian area management approach is best in all situations, but the grazing treatments used in this study appear to have been successful at maintaining riparian communities.



cottonwood; populus angustifolia; season of use; southwest; New Mexico; cattle

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