, Volume 191, Issue 2, pp 185-198
Date: 06 Dec 2006

From plant neighbourhood to landscape scales: how grazing modifies native and exotic plant species richness in grassland

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Abstract

The interactive effect of grazing and soil resources on plant species richness and coexistence has been predicted to vary across spatial scales. When resources are not limiting, grazing should reduce competitive effects and increase colonisation and richness at fine scales. However, at broad scales richness is predicted to decline due to loss of grazing intolerant species. We examined these hypotheses in grasslands of southern Australia that varied in resources and ungulate grazing intensity since farming commenced 170 years ago. Fine-scale species richness was slightly greater in more intensively grazed upper slope sites with high nutrients but low water supply compared to those that were moderately grazed, largely due to a greater abundance of exotic species. At broader scales, exotic species richness declined with increasing grazing intensity whether nutrients or water supply were low or high. Native species richness declined at all scales in response to increasing grazing intensity and greater resource supply. Grazing also reduced fine-scale heterogeneity in native species richness and although exotics were also characterised by greater heterogeneity at fine scales, grazing effects varied across scales. In these grasslands patterns of plant species richness did not match predictions at all scales and this is likely to be due to differing responses of native and exotic species and their relative abundance in the regional species pool. Over the past 170 years intolerant native species have been eliminated from areas that are continually and heavily grazed, whereas transient, light grazing increases richness of both exotics and natives. The results support the observation that the processes and scales at which they operate differ between coevolved ungulate—grassland systems and those in transition due to recent invasion of herbivores and associated plant species.