Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/4/2005
Publication Date: 2/22/2005
Citation: Derner, J.D., Lauenroth, W.K., Stapp, P.T. 2005. Using cattle grazing to manage grassland structure for nesting mountain plover. p. 13. Great Plains Conservation Conference. Interpretive Summary:
Technical Abstract: Traditional grazing management in the shortgrass steppe has employed season-long (mid-May to mid-October) cattle grazing at moderate stocking rates designed to remove approximately 40% of the current year’s forage production. This management practice, which seeks to maximize livestock gain under the constraints of maintaining individual animal performance and preventing long-term ecosystem degradation, has resulted in a homogeneous vegetation composition [warm-season perennial grasses, mostly blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis)] and shortgrass structure. The grassland bird Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus) represents one of the extremes in the large herbivore grazing - grassland bird habitat gradient and has experienced a substantial population decline in the past two decades, perhaps due to a decrease in suitable nesting habitat caused by a build-up of plant biomass associated with much wetter conditions in the 1980s and 1990s. We initiated an experiment in 2004 at the Central Plains Experimental Range (CPER) to investigate the utility of very heavy grazing intensities in early spring (mid-March to mid-May) and during the summer to manage grassland structure for nesting habitat of Mountain Plovers (30% bare ground, very low litter, very short structure). We are monitoring a suite of response variables including plant community structure and composition, and small mammal, arthropod and grassland bird populations. Preliminary results from 2004 suggest that 1) early spring grazing at very high intensities (1 yearling steer per 1.3 hectares) increases bare ground and decreases litter and standing crop to desirable levels required for nesting habitat in level uplands if supplemental feed is used to attract livestock to these areas. Early spring grazing increased the number of grasshoppers and Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys) nests, but did not affect small mammal populations. Changing the intensity and seasonality of livestock grazing have the potential to alter vegetation composition and structure in the shortgrass steppe to desired habitat conditions for nesting Mountain Plover, but many ecological consequences remain uncertain at this time. Changes in grassland composition and structure will be manifest in increased landscape scale heterogeneity for this ecosystem.