Bird community responses to cattle stocking rates in a Pacific Northwest bunchgrass prairie

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  • In 2006–2010, effects of four different cattle stocking rates (0, 14.4, 28.8, and 43.2 animal unit months) were compared, representing 0%, 20%, 32%, and 46% utilization of vegetation by domestic livestock, on vegetation structure (as indexed by visual obstruction), and songbird population and apparent nest density, community composition, and diversity in a Pacific Northwest bunchgrass prairie in northeastern Oregon, USA. Overall paddock-level visual obstruction decreased and structural heterogeneity increased with increasing stocking rates, and those effects carried over 1 year after grazing had ceased. Most species were able to locate nesting sites regardless of differences in visual obstruction, except western meadowlark and vesper sparrow, for which obstruction was lower in paddocks with higher stocking rates. Apparent nest density for grasshopper sparrows was negatively affected by higher stocking rates. Grazing effects on absolute songbird population density were restricted to negative effects of higher stocking rates on savannah sparrows, but this relationship was not observed until 1 year after grazing had ceased. Songbird community composition differed between control and heavily-grazed paddocks, driven by an increase in the proportion of horned larks and a decrease in the proportion of savannah sparrows in heavily-grazed paddocks from pre-treatment to post-treatment years. Bird diversity indices were unaffected by stocking rate. Negative effects of high stocking rates on densities of two species and the absence of any clear positive effect for the other three species suggest high stocking rates as applied in this experiment may not provide suitable habitat for all grassland songbirds. The absence of negative responses of density to low and moderate stocking rates suggests these grazing regimes generally provided suitable habitat for all species.
  • This is the author's peer-reviewed final manuscript, as accepted by the publisher. The published article is copyrighted by Elsevier and can be found at:
  • Keywords: Nonmetric multidimensional scaling, Sustainable grazing, Rangeland management, Vegetation structure, Habitat complexity, Ground-nesting bird
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  • Johnson, T., Kennedy, P., DelCurto, T., & Taylor, R. (2011). Bird community responses to cattle stocking rates in a pacific northwest bunchgrass prairie. AGRICULTURE ECOSYSTEMS & ENVIRONMENT, 144(1), 338-346. doi: 10.1016/j.agee.2011.10.003
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  • 144
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  • 1
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  • Support for this work was provided by the National Research Initiative of the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, Grant 2006-35101-16572, The Nature Conservancy, Oregon State University, The Oregon Zoo, Prairie Biotic Research, Inc., The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, The Garden Club of America, Sigma-Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research, and The Wildlife Society, Oregon Chapter.



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