The impact of cattle grazing regimes on tropical savanna bird assemblages


Globally, agricultural land use is implicated in the decline of avifauna. In rangelands (areas used for livestock grazing), bird community responses to grazing can be complex, species‐specific and scale dependent. A greater understanding of bird responses to grazing will lead to more meaningful management recommendations. We tested the hypothesis that foraging height predicts bird species’ responses to grazing, such that species using lower vegetation strata are most likely to respond to the impacts of livestock grazing. We examined the response of a tropical savanna bird community to four grazing strategies at a long‐term grazing trial in northern Australia. We predicted that ground‐foraging guilds would be more responsive to grazing treatment than foliage‐ or aerial‐foraging guilds. We analysed the bird community assemblage using generalised linear mixed models and examined individual species’ abundance in relation to microhabitat variables. We found that while ground‐foraging guilds were more responsive to grazing treatment, individual species dynamics within a foraging guild could be contradictory. For example, the red‐backed fairy‐wren decreased in abundance with increased grazing and was positively associated with grass and shrub (Carissa ovata) cover, whereas Australian magpies increased in abundance in the most heavily grazed paddocks. In general, the responses of bird species to grazing were more pronounced in guilds that forage closer to the ground, but whether the responses were positive or negative was driven by bird species ecology. Measures examining the responses of individual species are more useful than assemblage measures (such as richness) to describe the impacts of anthropogenic disturbance such as grazing.

For the actual science of this story, you should definitely read the paper and contact the authors if you have any questions.

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