Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Livestock grazing supports native plants and songbirds in a California annual grassland.

Abstract

Over eight years we measured the effects of plant community composition, vegetation structure, and livestock grazing on occurrence of three grassland bird species - Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta), Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris), and Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum) - at sites in central California during breeding season. In California's Mediterranean-type climatic region, coastal and inland grassland vegetation is dominated by exotic annual grasses with occasional patches of native bunchgrass and forbs. Livestock grazing, primarily with beef cattle, is the most widely used management tool. Compared with ungrazed plots, grazed plots had higher bare ground, native plant cover, and vertically heterogeneous vegetation. Grazed plots also had less plant litter and shorter vegetation. Higher native plant cover, which is predominantly composed of bunchgrasses in our study area, was associated with livestock grazing and north-facing aspects. Using an information theoretic approach, we found that all three bird species had positive associations with native plant abundance and neutral (Western Meadowlark, Grasshopper Sparrow) or positive (Horned Lark) association with livestock grazing. All species favored flatter areas. Horned Larks and Western Meadowlark occurred more often where there were patches of bare ground. Western Meadowlarks and Grasshopper Sparrows were most common on north-facing slopes, suggesting that these species may be at risk from projected climate change. These findings demonstrate that livestock grazing is compatible with or supports grassland bird conservation in Mediterranean-type grasslands, including areas with high levels of exotic annual grass invasion, in part because grazing supports the persistence of native plants and heterogeneity in vegetation structure. However, conservation of low-lying grasslands with high native species presence, and active management to increase the abundance of native plant species are also likely to be important for sustaining grassland birds long-term.