Flower production of Aster tripolium is affected by behavioral differences in livestock species and stocking densities: the role of activity and selectivity

Stefanie Nolte (Lead Author), Peter Esselink, Jan P. Bakker

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13 Citations (Scopus)


Semi-natural grasslands are an important habitat for endangered plant and animal species. In grasslands, low-intensity livestock grazing is frequently applied as a tool for nature conservation. We aim to investigate how different livestock species in various densities influence the state and flower production of a single plant species by selective defoliation and/or trampling. We hypothesized that (1) moderate stocking densities would cause more damage than low, and that (2) horses would cause more damage than cattle due to their higher activity. The experiment took place in a salt marsh in the Netherlands where grazing treatments with horses and cattle in two stocking densities were installed. Damage to individual Aster tripolium plants and number of flower heads were recorded at the end of the grazing season in late September. We found (1) more damage and fewer flower heads in moderate stocking densities compared to low densities. However, a reduction of flower heads by higher stocking densities was less clear with cattle. No clear difference (2) between livestock species was found, due to opposite trends in moderate and low densities. At low stocking densities, cattle caused more damage by selective defoliation. At moderate densities, horses caused more damage, because of their higher mobility, which led to damage by trampling. We conclude that the response of Aster to grazing is strongly affected by behavioral differences between livestock species. Grazing experiments and management schemes for semi-natural grasslands should therefore not only consider stocking densities, but also livestock species to reach desired conservation goals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)821-831
JournalEcological Research
Issue number5
Early online date26 Jun 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2013
Externally publishedYes

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