Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Rotational grazing on rangelands: Reconciliation of perception and experimental evidence

Authors
item Briske, David - TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY
item Derner, Justin
item Brown, Joel - USDA-NRCS
item Fuhlendorf, Sam - OKLAHOMA STATE UNIVERSITY
item Teague, Richard - TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY
item Havstad, Kris
item Gillen, Robert - KANSAS STATE UNIVERSITY
item Ash, Andrew - CSIRO
item Willms, Walter - AG AND AGRI-FOODS

Submitted to: Rangeland Ecology and Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: September 17, 2007
Publication Date: January 15, 2008
Citation: Briske, D.D., Derner, J.D., Brown, J.R., Fuhlendorf, S.D., Teague, R.W., Havstad, K.M., Gillen, R.L., Ash, A.J., Willms, W.D. 2008. Rotational grazing on rangelands: Reconciliation of perception and experimental evidence. Rangeland Ecology and Management 61:3-18.

Interpretive Summary: The potential benefits of rotational grazing systems on rangelands remain unclear despite more than 25 years of research. This synthesis paper evaluates the experimental evidence to establish a common ground for interpretation. The majority of experimental grazing research documents that weather variation and stocking rate affect vegetation and animal responses independently of grazing system. Experimental evidence does not support implementation of rotational grazing to enhance either production or environmental goals on rangelands. However, the experimental evidence does not effectively address all potential management benefits arising from rotational grazing systems because they have seldom been investigated as a component of the entire ranch enterprise. Rangeland managers and policy makers need to recognize that the potential benefits of grazing systems are derived from sound management models, rather than from ecological responses.

Technical Abstract: The experimental evaluation of grazing systems represents a highly visible and lengthy chapter in the history of the rangeland profession. Although experimentation has largely concluded, contrasting interpretations still remain regarding the potential benefits of rotational grazing systems on rangelands. The overarching goal of this synthesis is to reconcile these contrasting interpretations by objectively evaluating the experimental evidence to establish a common ground for interpretation and to identify hypotheses to further clarify the potential benefits of grazing systems. The preponderance of experimental grazing research documents that weather variation and stocking rate affect vegetation and animal responses independently of grazing system. Therefore, experimental evidence does not support implementation of rotational grazing to enhance either production or environmental goals on rangelands. However, the experimental evidence does not effectively address all potential management benefits arising from rotational grazing systems because they have seldom been investigated as a component of the entire ranch enterprise. The continuation of conventional grazing systems research will yield little additional information if it is unable to disentangle the confounding effects of management objectives and capabilities, as well as personal goals and values (i.e., human dimensions), from the associated ecological effects. We hypothesize that the poorly examined interface between human dimensions and grazing systems represents the primary source of confusion regarding the purported benefits of grazing systems. Management has emphasized the socio-economic benefits of the ranch enterprise while reductionist science has focused on ecological processes associated with soil-vegetation-herbivore interactions of individual management units. It is not unexpected that inconsistent interpretations would result from the assessment of distinctly different goals, by groups with divergent perspectives, even though research has demonstrated minimal ecological benefits of grazing systems. Rangeland managers and policy makers need to recognize that the potential benefits of grazing systems are derived from sound management models, rather than from ecological phenomena.

Last Modified: 10/1/2014
Footer Content Back to Top of Page