The University of Arizona

Spatial components of plant-herbivore interactions in pastoral, ranching, and native ungulate ecosystems.

M.B. Coughenour

Abstract


The spatial component of herbivory remains enigmatic although it is a central aspect of domestic and native ungulate ecosystems. The effects of ungulate movement on plants have not been clearly established in either range or wildlife management. While livestock movement systems have been implemented to cope with increases in livestock density, restrictions on movement, and overgrazing, a large number of studies have disputed the effectiveness of different livestock movement patterns. Traditional pastoralism, particularly nomadism, has been perceived as irrational and even destructive, but many studies have documented features of traditional pastoral land use that would promote sustainability. Disruptions of wild ungulate movements have been blamed for wildlife overgrazing and population declines, but actual patterns and mechanisms of disrupted movement and population responses have been poorly documented. Models that integrate plant growth, ungulate movement, and foraging are suggested as a way to improve analyses of spatial plant-herbivore systems. Models must give due attention to nonforage constraints on herbivore distribution, such as topography. Models should assess the significance of movement as a means of coping with local climatic variation (patchy rainfall). Models that distribute an aggregate population over a landscape in relation to the distribution of habitat features deemphasize aspects of ungulate movements and population responses that inevitably cause nonideal distributions, particularly in natural ecosystems. Individual based models describe movement and foraging processes more accurately, but these models are difficult to apply over large areas. Both top-down and bottom-up approaches to spatial herbivory are needed. To model plant responses to movement, it is important to account for small scale phenomena such as tiller defoliation patterns, patch grazing, and grazing lawns as well as large scale patterns such as rotation and migration. Herbivory patterns at these different scales are interrelated.

Keywords


spatial variation;ungulates;spatial distribution;grazing

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