How grazing helps grasslands thrive
Story supplied by LU Press Office
Grazing animals are improving biodiversity by increasing the amount of light available for plants at ground level.
The research, published in Nature, is by an international team of scientists led by the University of Minnesota and including Lancaster University.
Understanding the interplay among fertilisers, herbivores and plant growth is critical to our capacity to feed a growing human population and protect threatened species and ecosystems.
Scientists at 40 sites on six continents set up research plots with and without added fertilizer and with and without fences to keep out the local herbivores such as deer, kangaroos, sheep or zebras.
One of the sites is in Lancashire where the researcher was Dr Carly Stevens, of Lancaster University's Lancaster Environment Centre, who said: "This experiment demonstrates how grazing shapes our grassland ecosystems and provides benefits to biodiversity. By carefully managing grazing in grasslands habitats hopefully we can offset at least some of the damage that can be done by fertilisers".
The scientists measured the amount of plant material grown, light reaching the ground, and number of species of plants growing in the plots.
When the researchers compared data across the 40 study sites, they found that fertilizing reduced the number of plant species in the plots as species less able to tolerate a lack of light were overshadowed by fast-growing neighbours.
On both fertilized and unfertilized plots, where removal of vegetation by herbivores increased the amount of light that struck the ground, plant species diversity increased.
These results held true whether the grassland was in Minnesota, Argentina or China, and whether the herbivores involved were rabbits, sheep, elephants or something else.
The findings add a key piece to the puzzle of how human impacts affect prairies, savannas, alpine meadows and other grasslands.
The study was made possible due to the formation of the Nutrient Network, also known as NutNet. This is a collaborative international experiment as a resource to understand how grasslands around the world respond to a changing environment.
Mon 10 March 2014
A Faculty team representing science, technology, engineering and maths took part in EDF Energy's 'Science Day' on Saturday 21st March at Heysham Power Station.
Wed 25 March 2015
Professor Roger Jones has replaced Professor Peter Ratoff as Head of the Physics Department. Roger gained a PhD studying neutrino interactions at CERN and Fermilab before starting his career at CERN working at the Large Electron-Positron (LEP) Collider.
Tue 24 March 2015
As part of British Science week, 170 students from 14 schools across the region came to Lancaster University on Wednesday 18th March to compete in science, technology, engineering and mathematics challenges.
Mon 23 March 2015
Lancaster University’s new flagship Engineering Building will provide a beacon of excellence for research and recruitment for the UK’s buoyant and significant engineering industry.
Mon 23 March 2015