Introducing spatial grazing impacts into the prediction of moorland vegetation dynamics

Palmer, S.C.F., Gordon, I.J., Hester, A.J., and Pakeman, R.J. (2004) Introducing spatial grazing impacts into the prediction of moorland vegetation dynamics. Landscape Ecology, 19 (8). pp. 817-827.

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Grazing by large herbivores is a major determinant of vegetation dynamics in many semi-natural ecosystems, including the replacement of heather moorland by rough grassland in the British uplands. Herbivore foraging is influenced by vegetation patterns and, in turn, their grazing drives vegetation dynamics. Although vegetation impacts are local, spatially heterogeneous local impacts can have different consequences as would the same impacts distributed uniformly. We constructed a simulation model of the spatial effects of grazing by sheep on the vegetation dynamics of heather moorland, a vegetation community of international conservation importance in the UK. The model comprised three sub-models to predict (1) annual average heather utilisation, (2) spatial variation in heather utilisation (higher near the edge of grass patches) and (3) competition between heather and grass. Here we compare the predicted heather utilisation and vegetation dynamics of the spatial model, relative to those of a non-spatial model. The spatial model resulted in a reduced loss of heather cover for a given sheep stocking rate. The model demonstrates how spatial interactions between large herbivores and their forage drive vegetation dynamics, leading to changes in community structure and composition. Indeed, omitting spatial effects in grazing models may lead to inaccurate predictions. We have shown that ecosystem modelling, based around an iterative dialogue between developers and experienced researchers, has the potential to make a substantial contribution towards the conservation and management of vulnerable landscapes. Combining modelling with experimental studies will facilitate progress towards understanding long-term vegetation/herbivore dynamics.

Item ID: 42563
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1572-9761
Keywords: Calluna vulgaris, sheep, simulation model, spatial heterogeneity, ungulates, utilisation
Funders: Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH)
Date Deposited: 10 Feb 2016 07:43
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0501 Ecological Applications > 050104 Landscape Ecology @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970105 Expanding Knowledge in the Environmental Sciences @ 100%
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