Submitted to: Conference Proceedings of Canadian Society of Animal Science
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: July 20, 2004
Publication Date: July 23, 2004
Citation: Sanderson, M.A. 2004. Is there a role for biodiversity in temperate pastures?. Conference Proceedings of Canadian Society of Animal Science. p. 1-15. Interpretive Summary: Biodiversity is a key feature of properly functioning ecosystems including temperate forage and grazing lands. Some ecological research indicates that increased plant biodiversity increases forage production in grasslands and benefits nutrient retention and resistance to weed invasions. These results and concepts have been extrapolated to management of forage and pasturelands. It is not clear, however, whether the results and concepts of basic ecological biodiversity studies apply to managed forage and grazing lands. Despite some positive results with managing for increased plant species diversity, it must be remembered that management for increased diversity is not simply a numbers game. Managing for high forage species diversity may not be appropriate for a highly productive, stable environment where the main objective is maximum forage production. Most temperate pasturelands, however, are highly variable in soils, landscapes, and climate and often fulfill multiple functions for producers (e.g., animal production and resource protection). It is in these situations where greater plant diversity may be most beneficial.
Technical Abstract: Globally, biodiversity refers to the broad array of genetic material, species, and ecosystems that make up the natural world. Pasture ecosystems can be highly biodiverse, with a complex array of organisms contributing to proper ecosystem functioning. Within the broad range of biodiversity in pastures, plant species diversity may be the most amenable to manipulation or management. Postulated benefits of plant species diversity in experimental grasslands include greater and more stable primary production along with more efficient nutrient use. Most information on the potential benefits of increased plant diversity comes from studies of synthesized grasslands that have not included domestic grazing animals. Some research in pasture ecosystems suggests that greater plant species diversity benefits herbage productivity and resistance to weed invasion. Little research has been done that has examined effects of plant species diversity on primary and secondary productivity at larger (pasture) scales. Species identity, abundance, and their spatial distribution across the landscape are critical features in pasturelands. Managing for high forage species diversity may be most appropriate for grazing lands highly variable in soils, landscapes, and climate.