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The Center for Native Grasslands Management

Title: Livestock as ecosystem engineers for grassland bird habitat in the western great plains of North America
Year: 2009
Author(s): Derner, J. D., Lauenroth, W. K., Stapp, P., Augustine, D. J.
Source Title: Rangeland Ecology and Management
Source Type: Journal
pages: 111-118
Original Publication: http://  
Abstract: Domestic livestock have the potential to function as ecosystem engineers in semiarid rangelands, but prevailing management practices largely emphasize livestock production and uniform use of vegetation. As a result, variation in vegetation structure might not occur at appropriate spatial and temporal scales to achieve some contemporary conservation objectives. Here, we introduce the utility of livestock as ecosystem engineers and address potential benefits and consequences associated with heterogeneity-based management practices for conservation grazing in the semiarid rangelands of the western North American Great Plains. To illustrate the potential value of this approach, we provide specific examples where engineering effects of livestock could alter vegetation heterogeneity at within-pasture (,100 ha) and among-pasture (,100 ha to thousands of hectares) scales to improve habitat for declining native grassland birds. Experimental evaluations of the efficacy of livestock to achieve desired modifications to vegetation structure are needed, along with the economic aspects associated with implementing heterogeneity-based management practices. Using livestock as ecosystem engineers to alter vegetation structure for grassland bird habitat is feasible in terms of application by land managers within the context of current livestock operations, and provides land managers important tools to achieve desired contemporary objectives and outcomes in semiarid rangelands of the western North American Great Plains.