The Development of Forage Production and Utilization Gradients around Livestock Watering Points
Large herbivores can impose spatial patterns on otherwise homogeneous vegetation, but how these patterns change through time is poorly understood. Domestic livestock pastures are model systems for studying how foraging behavior influences the development of coupled grazing and vegetation patterns. We sampled forage production and utilization by cattle along distance-from-water gradients to provide a snapshot of grazing and vegetation patterns, and then evaluated the ability of simulation models to qualitatively reproduce these patterns. In the field, forage production increased with distance from water, as expected, but utilization peaked at intermediate distances from water in two of three study areas. Likewise, simulations based on a variety of foraging strategies produced gradients in forage production and, after forage availability near water declined sufficiently, peaks in utilization at intermediate distances. Distance-from-water gradients thus represent cumulative but not necessarily present day gradients in grazing intensity. The model with a foraging strategy based on time minimization produced slightly more realistic patterns in forage abundance than a model based on energy maximization, although results were sensitive to the value of the threshold for rejecting sites of low forage biomass. However, all models produced implausible thresholds in grazing and forage distribution, suggesting that factors besides resource distribution influence herbivore distributions. Moreover, different foraging rules produced similar vegetation gradients, especially on point water source landscapes, illustrating the difficulty of inferring foraging processes from vegetation patterns.
Adler, P.B. and S.A. Hall. 2005. The development of forage production and utilization gradients around livestock watering points. Landscape Ecology 20: 319-333