The University of Arizona

Prescribed grazing as a secondary impact in a western riparian floodplain.

J.A. Sedgwick, F.L. Knopf


The effect of late-autumn cattle grazing on plant biomass was examined in a western Great Plains cottonwood riparian zone prone to catastrophic flooding every 5-8 years. Following 1 year of pre-treatment data collection in 1982, five 16-ha pastures were grazed from 1982 to 1984 and compared to 5 control pastures within the South Platte River floodplain in northeastern Colorado. At a prescribed grazing level of 0.46 ha/AUM, riparian vegetation proved to be resilient to the impacts of grazing. We detected only a few significant treatment effects for above-ground biomass after succeeding growing seasons. Willows (Salix spp.) responded negatively to grazing whereas biomass of prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata Link) was greater on grazed plots. Yearly changes in above-ground biomass, especially dramatic following a severe flood in 1983, suggest that periodic, catastrophic flooding is a major perturbation to the ecosystem, and in conjunction with our results on grazing impacts, indicate that dormant-season grazing within Soil Conservation Service (SCS) guidelines is a comparatively minor impact within the floodplain. In addition, grazing impacts were probably further mitigated by a major forage supplement of cottonwood leaves which was available at the time of cattle introductions. This local forage supplement ultimately created a lighter grazing treatment than that originally prescribed.


autumn;Populus;floodplains;Spartina;Spartina pectinata;environmental impact;community ecology;Populus deltoides subsp. monilifera;standing biomass;community composition;riparian grasslands;Salix;leaves;controlled grazing;plant ecology;flooding;riparian buffers;biomass production;cattle;biomass;botanical composition;grazing;Colorado;forage

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