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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Burns, Oregon » Range and Meadow Forage Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #359971

Research Project: Restoring and Managing Great Basin Ecosystems

Location: Range and Meadow Forage Management Research

Title: Ecological effects of free-roaming horses on North American rangelands

Author
item Davies, Kirk
item Boyd, Chad

Submitted to: Bioscience
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/10/2019
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary: Feral (wild) horses are a widespread management challenge in North America, leading to concerns that they may be negatively impacting native plant communities and ecosystem function. We synthesized the literature on feral horse impacts on rangelands. Feral horse use can alter plant community composition, diversity, and structure, and increases bare ground and erosion potential. Free-roaming horse use has also been linked to negative impacts to native fauna. Horses have been repeatedly demonstrated to limit and even excluded native wildlife from water sources. These effects would likely be greatly reduced if horse populations were better managed, but will require a change in the sociopolitical arena surrounding this issue.

Technical Abstract: Free-roaming horses are a widespread conservation challenge. Horse use is largely unmanaged, leading to concerns about their impact on native plant communities and ecosystem function. We synthesized the literature to determine ecological effects of free-roaming horses on North American rangelands. Largely unmanaged horse use can alter plant community composition, diversity, and structure, and increases bare ground and erosion potential. Free-roaming horse use has also been linked to negative impacts to native fauna. Horses have been repeatedly demonstrated to limit and even excluded native wildlife from water sources. These effects would likely be greatly reduced if horse populations were better managed, but will require a change in the sociopolitical arena surrounding this issue. Using rigorous ecological research to educate politicians and the general public may facilitate development of scientific based management of free-roaming horses.