The cascading impacts of livestock grazing in upland ecosystems: a 10-year experiment

Darren M. Evans*, Nacho Villar, Nick A. Littlewood, Robin J. Pakeman, Sharon A. Evans, Peter Dennis, John Skartveit, Steve M Redpath

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

29 Citations (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Livestock grazing is a major driver of land-use change, causing significant biodiversity loss globally. Although the short-term effects of livestock grazing on individual species are well studied, a mechanistic understanding of the long-term, cascading impacts is lacking. We manipulated livestock densities using a unique, replicated upland experiment over a 10-year period and found significant effects of grazing treatment on plant and arthropod biomass; the number of Anthus pratensis breeding bird territories; the amplitude of Microtus agrestis population cycles and the activity of a top predator, Vulpes vulpes. Lower plant biomass as a result of higher stocking densities led to cascades across trophic levels, with fewer arthropods and small mammals, the latter affecting predator activity. Breeding bird territories were a function of arthropod abundance and vegetation structure heterogeneity. Our results provide a novel food-web analysis in a grazing experiment to provide a mechanistic understanding of how food-webs in upland ecosystems respond to long-term livestock grazing pressure, with consequences for management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalEcosphere
Volume6
Issue number3
Early online date30 Mar 2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015

Keywords

  • agro-ecosystems
  • conservation
  • grassland
  • moorland
  • population cycles
  • trophic interactions
  • vole populations
  • alpine ecosystem
  • trait responses
  • farmland birds
  • sheep
  • management
  • dynamics
  • rodent
  • productivity

Cite this

Evans, D. M., Villar, N., Littlewood, N. A., Pakeman, R. J., Evans, S. A., Dennis, P., Skartveit, J., & Redpath, S. M. (2015). The cascading impacts of livestock grazing in upland ecosystems: a 10-year experiment. Ecosphere, 6(3), 1-15. https://doi.org/10.1890/ES14-00316.1