Impacts of Browsing and Grazing Ungulates on Faunal Biodiversity
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In this chapter we focus on the impacts of browsing and grazing ungulates on faunal biodiversity. It is not intended to be an exhaustive review of the literature, but aims to increase understanding of the extensive range of direct and indirect effects that ungulates may have on faunal diversity, and ultimately, consequences for management of systems where ungulates occur.
Besides the impacts on biodiversity that come about at the genetic, ecosystem and landscape level, the most obvious effects of ungulates on biodiversity take place at the population-species level and result in changes in the abundance and richness of animal taxa.
These interactions can be direct (e.g., ungulates consume other animals or ungulates are predated) or indirect (e.g., ungulates compete with, or facilitate, other animal species by changing vegetation dynamics, thereby limiting, or increasing, available habitat or food for other species).
High ungulate diversity, with species distributed across body size classes and feeding guilds, can be directly linked to the heterogeneity of the ecosystems they occupy, regulated by a multitude of feedback loops between herbivores and plants. Therefore, in an evolutionary sense, high diversity of ungulates gives rise to high biodiversity. However, ungulate effects on other faunal species are extremely variable and depend on the composition and abundance of species involved.
In certain parts of the world, wild ungulate species may become a threat to biodiversity if numbers increase unabated in the absence of predators. However, grazing and browsing ungulates are essential for maintaining, or establishing, favourable conditions for various animal species and in the process, shape faunal assemblages. In order to continuously maintain favourable levels of different ungulate effects, implementing an adaptive management approach, including monitoring population and environmental indices, is recommended.
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