The University of Arizona

Grazing effects and range trend assessment on California bighorn sheep range.

B.M. Wikeem, M.D. Pitt

Abstract


This study investigated the effect of grazing by California bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis californiana) on plant community structure. Over 28 months from 1977 to 1979, bighorn diet consisted of 79 species, including 14 grasses, 47 forbs and bryophytes, plus 18 trees and shrubs. Grasses, forbs, and shrubs comprised 66.6, 18.9, and 14.5% of the diet, respectively. Three years of bighorn sheep grazing reduced (P < 0.05) leaf and culm lengths of bluebunch wheatgrass (Agropyron spicatum (Pursh) Scribn. & Smith). Grazing generally reduced leaf length, basal diameter, culm (stem) length, and culm (stem) numbers of prairie Junegrass (Koeleria cristata Pers.), Sandberg's bluegrass (Poa sandbergii Vasey), needle-and-thread (Stipa comata Trin. & Rupr.), Thompson's paintbrush (Castilleja thompsonii Pennell), silky lupine (Lupinus sericeus Pursh), and snow buckwheat (Eriogonum niveum Dougl.). Vigor of arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata (Pursh) Nutt.) was unaffected by grazing, despite its dietary importance. Total plant frequency remained unchanged between 1976 and 1983 in areas grazed by bighorn sheep, and in grazing exclosures. Total grass frequency declined from 46.5 to 30.8% within the exclosures, but increased from 44.7 to 48.8% in response to bighorn sheep grazing. Forb frequency remained unchanged after 7 years of bighorn sheep grazing while frequency of yarrow (Achillea millefolium L.) increased more inside exclosures than on the grazed area. Botanical composition of shrubs increased on grazed and ungrazed areas from 1976 to 1983, but frequency was unaffected by bighorn sheep grazing. Snow buckwheat and Wyeth buckwheat (Eriogonum heracleoides Nutt.) declined in response to bighorn sheep grazing. Successional trends caused by California bighorn sheep grazing differed from trends expected from cattle grazing.

Keywords


Ovis canadensis;ovis canadensis californiana;community ecology;British Columbia;grasslands;plant ecology;species diversity;ecological succession;feces composition;vigor;plant communities;shrubs;botanical composition;grazing;grasses;forage;feeding preferences

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