Targeted grazing of an invasive grass improves outcomes for native plant communities and wildlife habitat.
Rangelands provide ecosystem services that are economically and ecologically critical for humans. Globally, invasion of exotic grasses drives loss of biodiversity and resilience of rangelands. In South Texas, buffelgrass (Cenchrus ciliaris syn. Pennisetum ciliare [L.] Link), a C4 perennial grass, was brought from Africa for range improvement as early as the 1930s. Buffelgrass generally increases forage biomass for livestock yet reduces habitat suitability for wildlife. Interest in controlling buffelgrass has increased due to its negative impacts on iconic wildlife, such as whitetailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus, Zimmermann 1780) and northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus, Linnaeus 1758). The objective of this study was to evaluate the effect of a targeted grazing strategy that used buffelgrass and plant community phenology as indicators to determine the timing of cattle movement. On two private ranches in different ecoregions, we tracked targeted grazing versus light grazing in native-dominated and buffelgrass-dominated plant communities across variable precipitation through five growing seasons. We measured the effects of grazing type, plant community type, and precipitation on buffelgrass cover, native plant species richness, foliar cover, and Shannon diversity. Targeted grazing had a strong impact on diversity, increasing 0.37 ± 0.07 from a mean of H = 1.29 under the targeted grazing management. Conversely, buffelgrass cover was negatively correlated with Shannon diversity, decreasing it by 0.075 ± 0.03 for every 10% increase in buffelgrass cover from a mean of H = 1.29. Despite a variability in precipitation across seasons and years (93-455 mm), targeted grazing improved species richness and cover of native plants throughout the study. Our findings suggest that targeted grazing shows promise as an adaptive grazing strategy that reduces the impact of buffelgrass across highly variable precipitation. In unpredictable environments, management techniques that improve the resilience of plant communities through preserving biodiversity are critical.