Effects of grazing management on biodiversity across trophic levels–The importance of livestock species and stocking density in salt marshes

Roel van Klink (Lead Author), Stefanie Nolte (Lead Author), Freek S. Mandema, D.D. Georgette Lagendijk, Michiel F. WallisDeVries, Jan P. Bakker, Peter Esselink, Christian Smit

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European coastal salt marshes are important for the conservation of numerous species of specialist plants, invertebrates, breeding and migratory birds. When these marshes are managed for nature conservation purposes, livestock grazing is often used to counter the dominance of the tall grass Elytrigia atherica, and the subsequent decline in plant species richness. However, it remains unclear what is the optimal choice of livestock species and stocking density to benefit biodiversity of various trophic levels.

To fill this knowledge gap, we set up a triplicate, full factorial grazing experiment with cattle and horse grazing at low and high stocking densities (0.5 or 1 animal ha−1) at the mainland coast of the Dutch Wadden Sea. Here, we present the results after 4 years and integrate these with previously published results from the same experiment to assess effects of livestock grazing on various trophic groups.

Stocking density affected almost all measured variables: high stocking densities favoured plant species richness and suppression of E. atherica, whereas low stocking densities favoured abundances of voles, pollinators and flowers. Densities of different functional groups of birds showed no significant response to the regimes, but tended to be somewhat higher under 0.5 horse and 1 cattle ha−1.

Choice of livestock species had fewer and smaller effects than stocking density. Horse grazing was detrimental to vole density, and showed an interactive effect with stocking density for Asteraceae flower abundance. Multidiversity, a synthetic whole-ecosystem biodiversity measure, did not differ among regimes. These results are discussed in the light of other results from the same experiment.

Because of these contrasting effects on different trophic groups, we advise concurrent application of different grazing regimes within a spatial mosaic, with the inclusion of long-term abandonment. High density horse grazing, however, is detrimental to biodiversity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)329-239
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems & Environment
Early online date11 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016
Externally publishedYes

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