Rare plant species do not occupy water-remote refuges in arid environments subject to livestock grazing

Date: 17, Sep, 2019
Author(s):   Roderick Fensham, Boris Laffineur, Jonathan Rhodes, Jennifer Silcock
Publisher: Ecological Applications

In many of the world’s arid regions there has been a dramatic increase in grazing pressure with herds of livestock sustained by the provision of artificial water points. In these systems it has been suggested that grazing-sensitive plant species will have contracted to refuges distant from water points where grazing impacts are low. This association was tested using a large data set of presence/absence records for rare plant species throughout the north-eastern Australian arid zone. The presence records of only one of 45 species were statistically associated with lower grazing activity, as a function of distance-to-water, than the absence records. The field observation that this species is rarely grazed suggests it is not susceptible to grazing pressure. In general, the study supports assertions that populations of short-lived plants in drylands are resilient in the face of exaggerated livestock grazing because herbivores are not in sufficient densities to have an impact during the sporadic periods of high rainfall when plants can complete their life cycles. However, long-lived palatable species may be extinction-prone in grazed landscapes over long time frames if recruitment is curtailed by grazing.