Plant Community Structure And Composition

Species composition of plant communities can be altered by selective foraging of ungulates, and this phenomenon is a trademark of plant-ungulate relations.[1,2] By altering the competitive relations among plants, differential tolerances of co-occurring plant species appear to be important determinants of how woody and herbaceous plants respond to herbivory. On a landscape inhabited by herbivores that prefer one class of forage, that preferred forage will, through the defoliation process, be less competitive than those species not grazed. In areas grazed by cattle without a mitigating grazing system, grasses can be expected to decline while unpalatable shrubs and trees should increase. Poorly managed cattle grazing often reduces the cover of grasses, forbs, and shrubs, as well as vegetation biomass.[3] Additionally, this reduction in plant cover coupled with soil disturbance from animal trafficking provides the potential for invasion of undesirable exotic plant species.

Because livestock grazing has the potential to alter structure and composition of plant communities, habitat diversity can be directly affected by reducing the structure of vegetation short-term through the eating process, and long-term by changing and simplifying the composition. Therefore, some species will decline due to a reduction in habitat required by them, new species may colonize because new habitats are created, and still others may be unaffected.

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