The University of Arizona

Ungulate herbivory on Utah aspen: assessment of long-term exclosures.

C.E. Kay, D.L. Bartos

Abstract


The role of livestock grazing and big-game browsing in the decline of aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) in the Intermountain West has long been questioned. All known aspen exclosures (n=8) on the Dixie and Fishlake National Forests in south-central Utah were measured during late summer of 1995 and 1996 to determine aspen stem dynamics, successional status, and understory species composition. Five of the exclosures were of a 3-part design with a total-exclusion portion, a livestock-exclusion portion, and a combined-use portion which permitted the effects of deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and elk (Cervus elaphus) herbivory to be measured separately from those of livestock. Aspen within all total-exclusion plots successfully regenerated and developed multi-aged stems without the influence of fire or other disturbance. Aspen subjected to browsing by wildlife, primarily mule deer, either failed to regenerate successfully or regenerated at stem densities significantly lower (2,498 stems ha(-1)) than that on total-exclusion plots (4,474 stems ha(-1)). On combined wildlife-livestock-use plots, most aspen failed to regenerate successfully, or did so at low stem densities (1,012 stems/ha(-1)). Aspen successfully regenerated on ungulate-use plots only when deer numbers were low. Similarly, ungulate herbivory had significant effects on understory species composition. In general, utilization by deer tended to reduce shrubs and tall palatable forbs while favoring the growth of native grasses. The addition of livestock grazing, however, tended to reduce native grasses while promoting introduced species and bare soil. Thus, communities dominated by old-age or single-age trees appear to be a product of ungulate browsing, not a biological attribute of aspen as has been commonly assumed. There was no evidence that climatic variation affected aspen regeneration. Observed differences are attributed to varied histories of ungulate herbivory.

DOI:10.2458/azu_jrm_v53i2_kay


Keywords


natural regeneration;national forests;understory;Populus tremuloides;grazing intensity;Odocoileus hemionus;Cervus elaphus canadensis;botanical composition;Utah;grazing;beef cattle

Full Text:

PDF