Balancing beef with biodiversity: faunal responses to different cattle grazing strategies

Neilly, Heather Louise (2017) Balancing beef with biodiversity: faunal responses to different cattle grazing strategies. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

PDF (Thesis)
Download (2MB) | Preview
View at Publisher Website:


Native wildlife is protected in national parks and reserves, but it is becoming increasing clear that these areas are not large enough to protect biodiversity into the future. There is great potential for rangelands, used for livestock grazing, to be managed in ways that not only provide profits for graziers but also maintain the ecological processes that support native wildlife. This concept is known as 'off-reserve conservation'. To make recommendations about the best way to achieve off-reserve conservation, we first need to understand how fauna respond to different grazing strategies and how this relates to profitability.

I examined the bird, mammal and reptile communities at an experimental grazing trial (established in 1997) in north Queensland. I aimed to find out how these fauna communities responded to four different grazing strategies and two vegetation types and determine whether a trade-off existed between economic performance, land condition, and biodiversity. Twice a year, over three years, I conducted aural and visual bird surveys, mammal cage trapping and reptile pitfall and funnel trapping. Additionally, I measured terrestrial and arboreal microhabitats at each survey site.

I found that the effect of grazing on wildlife is complex and can be strongly influenced by the vegetation type and seasonal rainfall. I found that abundance and richness can sometimes mask more complex community compositional changes. Overall, reptile abundance responded negatively to heavy grazing. In birds, reptiles and mammals I identified species that benefited from heavy grazing, those negatively influenced by heavy grazing, and species that showed no response to the grazing treatments. In some species, microhabitat selection was a strong driver of grazing response. I found that there was no trade-off between reptiles and profitability: the heavily grazed treatment was the least profitable, and also had the lowest number of reptiles.

My research shows that biodiversity can be maintained in grazing strategies that also have high profitability. As such, economically sustainable red meat production and conservation on rangelands are not necessarily opposing goals. Conserving native wildlife on rangelands is important due to the ecosystem services that wildlife can provide e.g. maintaining soil health, pollination, seed dispersal and insect pest control. For corporate graziers, using sustainable grazing practices and maintaining native wildlife populations suggests excellent stewardship and may be highly valued by consumers.

Item ID: 55904
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Aepyprymnus rufescens, agriculture, arborea cattle grazing, ecosystem engineer, habitat fragmentation, habitat selection, herpetofauna, manly selection ratio, off-reserve conservation, potoroidae, rangelands, reptiles, response mechanisms, rufous bettong, tropical savanna
Related URLs:
Copyright Information: Copyright © 2017 Heather Louise Neilly
Additional Information:

For this thesis, Heather Neilly received the Dean's Award for Excellence 2019.

Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Chapter 5: Neilly, H., and Schwarzkopf, L. (2018) Heavy livestock grazing negatively impacts a marsupial ecosystem engineer. Journal of Zoology, 305 (1). pp. 35-42.

Chapter 6: Neilly, Heather, Nordberg, Eric J., VanDerWal, Jeremy, and Schwarzkopf, Lin (2018) Arboreality increases reptile community resistance to disturbance from livestock grazing. Journal of Applied Ecology, 55 (2). pp. 786-799.

Date Deposited: 18 Oct 2018 23:56
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050211 Wildlife and Habitat Management @ 50%
05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0501 Ecological Applications > 050102 Ecosystem Function @ 50%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960504 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Farmland, Arable Cropland and Permanent Cropland Environments @ 100%
Downloads: Total: 253
Last 12 Months: 19
More Statistics

Actions (Repository Staff Only)

Item Control Page Item Control Page