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Response of plant community abundance and diversity during 10 years of cattle exclusion within silvopasture systems

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Abstract:

The effects of cattle (Bos taurus L.) grazing on upland plant communities in forested rangelands are poorly understood. Cattle interactions with plant communities were studied in intensively managed (precommercially thinned (PCT) and repeatedly fertilized) silvopasture systems in young lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta Dougl. ex Loud. var. latifolia Engelm.) forests. We investigated the response of plant community abundance and diversity to cattle grazing and how these responses were affected by PCT and repeated fertilization. The study was conducted inside and outside cattle exclosures over 10 years in two regional replicates in south-central British Columbia, Canada. PCT and repeated fertilization increased both the amount and quality of forage. Effects of cattle grazing on plant community abundance and diversity were variable and significantly influenced by the nutrient status of the site. In fertilized stands, cattle grazing increased species richness and diversity, particularly for the herb layer, although these treatment effects often took several years to be expressed. In unfertilized stands, cattle grazing did not significantly reduce herb or shrub volumes; however, species richness and, to a lesser extent, diversity of the shrub layer declined. In a landscape context, management strategies for silvopasture should promote heterogeneity for conservation of plant diversity through a variety of grazing pressures, as well as forest enhancement treatments such as PCT and repeated fertilization.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1139/x2012-003

Publication date: March 24, 2012

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