Change type of livestock grazing: brackish/salt marshes
Overall effectiveness category Likely to be beneficial
Number of studies: 3
Background information and definitions
Changing the species or breed of livestock grazing in marshes or swamps could reduce undesirable impacts. For example, trampling impacts could be reduced by replacing heavy cows with sheep, rabbits or ducks. Additionally, different species and breeds of livestock feed in different ways, leading to different impacts on vegetation (Adler et al. 2001; Loucougaray et al. 2004). Sheep maintain shorter, more uniform lawns of vegetation than cattle which leave tufts of longer vegetation, whilst horses can maintain patches of short vegetation. Traditional or heritage livestock breeds may consume different species of plants in different amounts to modern breeds (Tolhurst & Oates 2001). The temperament of livestock may also be an important consideration, with docile breeds being easier to manage around people.
To be summarized as evidence for this action, studies should ideally have compared grazing by different types of livestock at similar times and at a similar overall intensity. However, variation in timing and intensity might be inextricably linked to the change in livestock species (e.g. Nolte et al. 2014).
Related actions: Exclude or remove livestock from historically grazed sites; Use grazing to maintain or restore disturbance; Use grazing to control problematic plants; Modify livestock farming practices in watershed.
Adler P., Raff D. & Lauenroth W. (2001) The effect of grazing on the spatial heterogeneity of vegetation. Oecologia, 128, 465–479.
Loucougaray G., Bonis A. & Bouzillé J.-B. (2014) Effects of grazing by horses and/or cattle on the diversity of coastal grasslands in western France. Biological Conservation, 116, 59–71.
Nolte S., Esselink P., Smit C. & Bakker J.P. (2014) Herbivore species and density affect vegetation-structure patchiness in salt marshes. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 185, 41–47.
Tolhurst S. & Oates M. (2001) The Breed Profiles’ Handbook: A Guide to the Selection of Livestock Breeds for Grazing Wildlife Sites. English Nature, Peterborough.
Supporting evidence from individual studies
A replicated, paired, controlled study in 2010–2011 on a salt marsh in the Netherlands (Nolte et al. 2014) found that grazing by horses produced shorter vegetation on average, and larger uniform patches of vegetation, than grazing by cattle. After two summers of grazing, plots grazed by horses contained shorter vegetation stands (12 cm average height) than plots grazed by cattle (15 cm average height). Vegetation patches (i.e. areas of vegetation with uniform height) were larger in horse-grazed plots (190 cm diameter) than in cattle-grazed plots (98 cm diameter). Variation in height amongst patches was statistically similar in horse- and cattle-grazed plots (data reported as statistical model results). Methods: In 2010, eight 11-ha plots were established (in two sets of four) on a coastal salt marsh. The marsh had been “intensively grazed” for the previous 20 years. In May–October 2010 and 2011, four plots (two plots/set) were grazed by horses and four were grazed by cattle. Half of the plots were grazed at high intensity (1.0 animal/ha) and half were grazed at low intensity (0.5 animals/ha). In August 2011, vegetation height was measured along six 25-m transects/plot (100 points/transect). Some or all of the plots in this study were also used in (2) and (3).Study and other actions tested
A replicated, randomized, paired, controlled, before-and-after study in 2009–2013 on a salt marsh in the Netherlands (van Klink et al. 2016) found that grazing by cattle and horses had similar effects on plant species richness, vegetation height and the area of vegetation dominated by sea couch grass Elytrigia atheria. Over four years, plots grazed by cattle and horses did not significantly differ in plant species richness (both 8–14 species/16 m2) or average vegetation height (cattle: 9–22 cm; horses: 10–17 cm). This was true in both near to and far from the sea. Over four years, and across the whole marsh, plots grazed by cattle and horses experienced a statistically similar change in area of couch-grass-dominated vegetation (data not reported). Methods: In 2009, twelve 11-ha plots were established (in three sets of four) on a historically grazed coastal salt marsh. From 2010, six plots (two random plots/set) were grazed in summer by each livestock type: cows or horses. Half of the plots were grazed at high intensity (1.0 animal/ha) and half were grazed at low intensity (0.5 animals/ha). Vegetation height and plant species were recorded in late August/early September 2010–2013, in eight 16-m2 quadrats/plot/year. The area of couch-grass-dominated vegetation was mapped using aerial photographs taken before (2009) and four years after (2013) grazing treatments were applied. Some of the plots in this study were also used in (1) and (3).Study and other actions tested
Referenced papervan Klink R., Nolte S., Mandema F.S., Lagendijk D.D.G., Wallis De Vries M.F., Bakker J.P., Esselink P. & Smit C. (2016) Effects of grazing management on biodiversity across trophic levels – the importance of livestock species and stocking density in salt marshes. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 235, 329-339.
A replicated, randomized, paired, controlled, before-and-after study in 2009–2013 on a salt marsh in the Netherlands (Lagendijk et al. 2017) found that grazing by cattle and horses had statistically similar effects on plant community composition, plant species richness and two focal herb species. After six years, cattle-grazed and horse-grazed plots contained a similar overall plant community (data not reported) and plant species richness (cattle: 8.4–10.2 species/16 m2; horses: 8.3–10.2 species/16 m2). Over the six years, plots grazed by cattle and horses had experienced a similar turnover of plant species (data reported as a turnover index) and similar increases in plant species richness (cattle: gain of 1.7–5.9 species/16 m2; horses: gain of 1.1–5.2 species/16 m2). They had also experienced similar changes in cover of sea couch grass Elytrigia atheria (cattle: 2–11% change; horses: 0–9% change) and sea aster Aster tripolium (cattle: 1–27% change; horses: 13–15% change). Methods: In 2009, eight 11-ha plots were established (in two sets of four) on a coastal salt marsh. From 2010, four plots (two random plots/set) were grazed in summer by each livestock type: cows or horses. Half of the plots were grazed at high intensity (1.0 animal/ha) and half were grazed at low intensity (0.5 animals/ha). Plant species and their cover were recorded in August/September 2009 (after a summer of intense grazing to standardize plots) and 2010–2015 (during cattle/horse grazing treatments). Surveys were carried out in eight 16-m2 quadrats/plot/year. Some or all of the plots in this study were also used in (1) and (2).Study and other actions tested