Long-term grazing study in spring-fed wetlands reveals management tradeoffs
Spring-fed wetlands perform many important functions within oak-woodland landscapes, and livestock grazing modifies these functions. We used 10-year (long-term) and 3-year (paired-plot) experiments to better understand grazing management effects. We studied spring ecosystem responses in plant composition, diversity and cover; channel morphology; water quality; aquatic insects; and greenhouse gases. Lightly and moderately grazed wetlands exhibited lower insect family richness than ungrazed springs. Plant cover was maintained for the first 7 years of grazing, and plant diversity was not significantly affected. At the same time, removal of grazing decreased emissions of the greenhouse gas methane, and increased nitrate levels in spring waters. The results reveal important management tradeoffs relative to key response variables. In general, light cattle grazing at springs appears to be desirable from an ecosystem function perspective.