A little rest from grazing improves native grasslands

December 04, 2014

Petaluma, CA - Just like us, grasslands need rest to improve their health. A study just published by Point Blue Conservation Science in the journal Ecological Restoration shows a 72 percent increase in where native perennial grasses were found on a coastal California ranch when cattle grazing was changed to give the land more time to rest.

Over the last 300 years, nonnative annual grasses have invaded California's grasslands. These exotic grasses complete their lifecycle in one year and out-compete the native perennial grasses (grasses that live for multiple years).

Native perennial grasslands in California are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world, providing habitat for many bird species and other wildlife while also allowing water to better infiltrate soil, decreasing erosion and increasing water storage. They also stay green into the dry months and provide forage for cattle during lean times.

"Managing land and animals to promote perennial grasses through holistic planned grazing offers ranchers the most effective means of creating a profitable beef business, viable in the long-term, "says Joe Morris of T.O. Cattle Company. "By managing for perennial grasses we tend to increase the productivity of our ranches, their beauty, and their resilience against drought. The flip side of this is better performance for our animals and more profit for our business. These are the hallmarks sustainability."

The study's scientists documented the increase in perennial grasses by monitoring plant communities at TomKat Ranch near Pescadero, Calif., over the last three years. TomKat Ranch is a 728 hectare (1,800 acre) cow-calf grass-fed beef operation of 100-150 head.

In 2011, the ranch switched from continuous grazing, allowing cattle to graze over large portions of the ranch for months at a time, to a planned grazing approach. They increased cattle density by moving them through a series of smaller subdivided pastures, resting each pasture for 70 to 120 days before grazing again.

Three years after the change, the number of vegetation survey units where native perennial grasses were found increased by 72 percent.

"At TomKat Ranch, we value food production done in a way that maximizes benefits to our entire ranching system--our business, our community and the environment" says Kat Taylor, owner of TomKat Ranch. "Point Blue's science shows how using rest-rotational grazing can begin to restore coastal rangelands to native grasses and improve water and carbon storage in the soil, while increasing biodiversity and the grass forage potential for our herd."

The research suggests planned grazing promotes native perennial grass growth by reducing competition from invasive annual grasses. The periods of rest from grazing, especially during plant flowering, allows for more native perennial seed production and increases plant numbers, vigor and size. As California rangelands face the possibility of another drought year, incorporating more rest into grazing practices could improve the health of grasslands and help make ranching more ecologically sustainable.
-end-
Download or view a one-page summary of the scientific publication: http://www.pointblue.org/pubbriefs

Study citation: Henneman, C., N.E. Seavy, & T. Gardali. 2014. Restoring Native Perennial Grasses by Changing Grazing Practices in Central Coastal California. Ecological Restoration, 32:352-354. http://er.uwpress.org/content/32/4/352?etoc

About Point Blue Conservation Science:

Our mission is to advance the conservation of birds, other wildlife and ecosystems through science, partnerships and outreach. Our 140 scientists, along with educators and restoration specialists, work to reduce the impacts of habitat loss, climate change and other environmental threats while promoting nature-based solutions for wildlife and people, on land and at sea. Visit Point Blue at http://www.pointblue.org.

Point Blue Conservation Science

Related Grasslands Articles from Brightsurf:

Land management in forest and grasslands: How much can we intensify?
Intensive land-use reduces beneficial effects of biodiversity on ecosystem services.

Older and richer: Old grasslands show high biodiversity and conservation value
Researchers from the University of Tsukuba and Kobe University have found that the long-term, sustained existence of grasslands can increase plant diversity, and can act as an indicator for grasslands of high conservation importance.

How does an increase in nitrogen application affect grasslands?
The 'PaNDiv' experiment, established by researchers of the University of Bern on a 3000 m2 field site, is the largest biodiversity-ecosystem functioning experiment in Switzerland and aims to better understand how increases in nitrogen affect grasslands.

Shrub encroachment on grasslands can increase groundwater recharge
A new study led by Adam Schreiner-McGraw, a postdoctoral hydrology researcher at the University of California, Riverside, modeled shrub encroachment on a sloping landscape and reached a startling conclusion: Shrub encroachment on slopes can increase the amount of water that goes into groundwater storage.

Ants restore Mediterranean dry grasslands
A team of ecologists and agronomists led by Thierry Dutoit, a CNRS researcher, studied the impact of the Messor barbarus harvester ant on Mediterranean dry grasslands.

Peak district grasslands hold key to global plant diversity
Scientists at the University of Sheffield have found that plants are able to co-exist because they share key nutrients, using grasslands from the Peak District.

Biodiversity yields financial returns
Farmers could increase their revenues by increasing biodiversity on their land.

U of Guelph researcher helps measure worldwide nitrogen levels in grasslands
A University of Guelph ecologist has taken part in a global project to monitor real-world nitrogen cycles in grassland soils to build understanding that is critical for measuring impacts on the ecosystem & food production.

Insect decline more extensive than suspected
Compared to a decade ago, today the number of insect species on many areas has decreased by about one third.

Grassland biodiversity is blowing in the wind
Temperate grasslands are the most endangered but least protected ecosystems on Earth.

Read More: Grasslands News and Grasslands Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.