Theme 1: Rangeland/Grassland Ecology--Oral Sessions

Description

It is well recognized that domesticated and wild ruminant grazers have an important impact on the composition of grassland vegetation, mainly by forage selection, trampling and defaecation. However, little is known on the effects of genetic diversity, for example differences among breeds of cattle. Cattle breeds differ in terms of robustness, growth rate, weight and probably also in movement and forage selection behaviour, which all could impact vegetation composition. Our study therefore aimed at identifying breed-specific differences in forage selection and behaviour and its consequences for vegetation. In a controlled experiment on semi-natural pastures in the Swiss Alps, suckler cows of three cattle breeds (high-yielding Angus×Holstein crossbreeds, dual-purpose Original Braunvieh and slow-growing Highland cattle) grazed a series of adjacent paddocks. Plant species selection of the cattle was quantified by assessing biomass proportions of all plant species in vegetation subplots before and after pasturing. Movement behaviour was monitored using GPS sensors and pedometers. To assess long-term effects of cattle breeds on vegetation, we recorded vegetation composition in 50 paired pastures in mountain areas of Switzerland and in southern Germany, which were either grazed by Highland cattle or a production-oriented cattle breed. Low-productive Highland cattle selected plant species less strictly than the two higher-yielding breeds. They also exerted less physical pressure on the vegetation, because they were substantially lighter, but had relatively large claws. Highland cattle moved less actively, likely because of less selective foraging. These differences showed a strong correlation with differences in pasture vegetation, namely a smaller number of indicator plants for grazing and trampling tolerance on pastures of Highland cattle. Moreover, plant species richness was significantly increased by pasturing with Highland cattle, suggesting a high potential of robust breeds for sustaining or even increasing the diversity of species-rich pastures.

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Choosy Grazers and Plant Communities – Interactions between Cattle Breeds and Vegetation in Semi-Natural Pastures

It is well recognized that domesticated and wild ruminant grazers have an important impact on the composition of grassland vegetation, mainly by forage selection, trampling and defaecation. However, little is known on the effects of genetic diversity, for example differences among breeds of cattle. Cattle breeds differ in terms of robustness, growth rate, weight and probably also in movement and forage selection behaviour, which all could impact vegetation composition. Our study therefore aimed at identifying breed-specific differences in forage selection and behaviour and its consequences for vegetation. In a controlled experiment on semi-natural pastures in the Swiss Alps, suckler cows of three cattle breeds (high-yielding Angus×Holstein crossbreeds, dual-purpose Original Braunvieh and slow-growing Highland cattle) grazed a series of adjacent paddocks. Plant species selection of the cattle was quantified by assessing biomass proportions of all plant species in vegetation subplots before and after pasturing. Movement behaviour was monitored using GPS sensors and pedometers. To assess long-term effects of cattle breeds on vegetation, we recorded vegetation composition in 50 paired pastures in mountain areas of Switzerland and in southern Germany, which were either grazed by Highland cattle or a production-oriented cattle breed. Low-productive Highland cattle selected plant species less strictly than the two higher-yielding breeds. They also exerted less physical pressure on the vegetation, because they were substantially lighter, but had relatively large claws. Highland cattle moved less actively, likely because of less selective foraging. These differences showed a strong correlation with differences in pasture vegetation, namely a smaller number of indicator plants for grazing and trampling tolerance on pastures of Highland cattle. Moreover, plant species richness was significantly increased by pasturing with Highland cattle, suggesting a high potential of robust breeds for sustaining or even increasing the diversity of species-rich pastures.