The University of Arizona

Cover for wildlife after summer grazing on Sandhills rangeland.

P.E. Reece, J.D. Volesky, W.H. Schacht

Abstract


Livestock production and wildlife habitat objectives become antagonistic on grasslands when the architecture of standing herbage needed for key wildlife species limits the amount of forage that can be used by livestock. However, quantitative information needed to achieve cover objectives for wildlife is not available for summer-grazed grasslands. Three replicates of 7 grazing treatments were applied to the same 1.0-ha pastures for 3 years. Treatments included ungrazed control, and grazing at 16, 32, or 48 animal unit days (AUD) ha(-1) for 5 to 7 days during mid-June or mid-July. Cover was estimated after killing frost in September by measuring the average height below which complete visual obstruction occurred. Cumulative grazing pressure (AUD Mg(-1)) was used to describe grazing effects because of measurable differences in herbage among pastures and dates. Grazing in June reduced the average height of autumn cover at a constant rate from 11.0 to 7.0 cm (R2 = 0.34) as cumulative grazing pressure increased from 16 to 90 AUD Mg(-1). In contrast, declines in cover after grazing in July were about 2.6 times greater for cumulative grazing pressures up to 40 AUD Mg(-1) (R2 = 0.62), indicating a measurable decline in plant growth and an increasing dependence of autumn cover on the remaining herbage when grazing ended. Relatively low predictability of autumn cover after June compared to July grazing was offset by more plant growth during the balance of the growing season. Frequency of low-cover patches (less than or equal to 5.0 cm) within pastures was highly correlated (R2 = 0.94) with mean estimates of autumn cover. Consequently, the quality of cover near potential nesting sites also declined as the average height of cover declined, regardless of grazing date. The interdependence of low-cover patches and mean visual obstruction indicates that either variable could be the primary criterion for nest site selection up to 12 cm in visual obstruction.

DOI:10.2458/azu_jrm_v54i2_reece


Keywords


tympanuchus phasianellus;grouse;habitat destruction;nesting;Phasianidae;timing;visual obstruction;multiple use;ground cover;controlled grazing;stocking rate;Nebraska;precipitation;grazing intensity;botanical composition;plant height

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