Submitted to: Rangeland Ecology and Management
Publication Type: Peer reviewed journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/16/2008
Publication Date: 3/10/2009
Citation: Derner, J.D., Lauenroth, W.K., Stapp, P., Augustine, D.J. 2009. Livestock as Ecosystem Engineers for Grassland Bird Habitat in the Western Great Plains of North America. Rangeland Ecology and Management 62(2):111-118. Interpretive Summary: Management of rangeland ecosystems has changed substantially over the past several decades from the historical-based approach of optimizing livestock production to sustainable management for a diverse array of goods and services. Livestock grazing is an important tool used to modify vegetation composition and structure on rangelands, thereby modifying landscape elements and/or changing their spatial arrangement or connectivity on scales that are relevant to particular species of concern. We explore the role that livestock management could play in creating habitat to address conservation concerns, and propose new management strategies for using livestock grazing to manage semi-arid rangelands to increase ranch-to-landscape scale heterogeneity in vegetation composition and structure necessary for two bird species, Greater Sagegrouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) in sagebrush ecosystems and Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus) in shortgrass steppe. Implementing these management strategies is practical and feasible for land managers within the context of current livestock operations and provides an alternative to the removal of livestock from public rangelands. We propose that direct payments or economic incentives to livestock producers are likely needed to offset reduced livestock performance with these modified management practices.
Technical Abstract: Increased interest in goods and services produced on rangelands has placed them under an unprecedented level of scrutiny regarding management for a diverse array of products. We provide a framework for modifying livestock grazing strategies in semi-arid rangelands at within- and among-pasture spatial scales (10-300 ha) and strategic use of patch burns and supplemental feeding sites within-pastures to increase heterogeneity of vegetation composition and structure at ranch-to-landscape scales (500-10000 ha) while concomitantly achieving suitable habitats for Greater Sagegrouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) in sagebrush ecosystems and Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus) in shortgrass steppe. Implementing these management strategies is practical and feasible for land managers within the context of current livestock operations, provides an alternative to the removal of livestock from public rangelands, and can improve the quality of semi-arid rangeland ecosystems for some species of concern, although direct payments or economic incentives to livestock producers may be needed to offset potential economic losses attributable to reduced livestock performance associated with implementing modified management practices.