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Effects of wildlife grazing on the production, ground cover and plant species composition of an established perennial pasture in the Midlands region, Tasmania

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-17, 05:25 authored by Rowan SmithRowan Smith, Statham, M, Norton, TW, Richard RawnsleyRichard Rawnsley, Statham, HL, Alistair GracieAlistair Gracie, Donaghy, DJ

Context: Management of grazing wildlife on private land in Tasmania is a contentious issue for landowners, animal-welfare groups and the Tasmanian Government. Wildlife species known to graze pasture include Tasmanian pademelon (Thylogale billardierii), Bennett’s wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus rufogriseus), forester kangaroo (Macropus giganteus), brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) and fallow deer (Dama dama). Understanding the spatio-temporal patterns of wildlife grazing is important when considering wildlife-control options to mitigate pasture loss; however, limited research has been undertaken.

Aims: To quantify the impact of wildlife grazing on pasture production and to assess the spatial and temporal pasture biomass loss from an established pasture; to investigate the effect of protecting pastures from wildlife grazing on species composition of an existing perennial pasture; to determine whether wildlife grazing contributes to a decline in the composition of improved pasture species over time and an increase in-ground cover of less desirable grasses and broadleaf weeds; and to examine whether protecting pastures from wildlife grazing could increase ground cover.

Methods: Pasture biomass loss to wildlife grazing was determined by a paired exclusion-cage method over a 26-month period from February 2008 to April 2010. A quantitative pasture model was used to simulate pasture growth at the study site. Changes in the botanical composition of the sward in response to wildlife grazing were determined by hand-separation, drying and weighing of harvested material, and also by visual estimation of the ground cover of individual plant species. A wildlife faecal-pellet survey was used to develop an index of wildlife feeding activity.

Key results: Pasture loss to wildlife grazing varied spatially and temporally. Pasture loss decreased with increasing distance from the edge of cover vegetation. The proportion of pasture lost increased during periods of slow pasture growth. Visual estimates of ground cover showed that grazing by wildlife resulted in an increase in bare ground in unprotected swards, whereas protection from grazing resulted in an increase in production of perennial and annual species, as determined by hand-separation of harvested material, and a decrease in bare ground as determined by visual estimate. Faecal-pellet surveys were found to be strongly correlated with pasture biomass losses.

Conclusions: The proportion of pasture loss to wildlife grazing was found to be influenced by distance from native vegetation and also by pasture availability, which was seasonal. Wildlife can alter the composition of pastures by reducing the ground cover and yield of improved grasses. Continual grazing of pastures by wildlife in addition to rotational sheep grazing may increase the amount of bare ground.

Implications: Wildlife-control methods need to be carefully chosen if the intended benefits of alleviating pasture biomass losses are to be achieved. Quantifying the loss of pasture is important because it enables the extent and significance of losses to be determined and may inform decisions about the most appropriate wildlife control measures to adopt. Controlling wildlife during periods of slow pasture growth may be important in preventing damage and yield loss of plant species actively growing during these times. Failure to control wildlife may result in a decrease in the composition of desirable plant species.

History

Publication title

Wildlife Research

Volume

39

Pagination

123-136

ISSN

1035-3712

Department/School

Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA)

Publisher

CSIRO Publishing

Place of publication

150 Oxford St, Po Box 1139, Collingwood, Australia, Victoria, 3066

Rights statement

Copyright © 2012 CSIRO

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Sown pastures (excl. lucerne)