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Montane meadow hydropedology, plant community, and herbivore dynamics


Montane meadows provide multiple ecological and economic benefits, and are widely considered areas of high conservation value. There is growing interest in balancing multiple land-uses on these and other focal working landscapes to provide for economic, social, and conservation goals. Globally, livestock grazing has been used as a management and conservation tool in many ecosystems; however, there is substantial concern-particularly for montane meadows-that grazing negatively impacts ecosystem functions and services. The mechanisms by which excessive livestock grazing can degrade meadow function have been well documented; yet, for hydrologically functional meadow systems, we know little about meadow-scale linkages in the hydrologic-soil-plant-grazing animal continuum, which limits our ability to develop riparian grazing conservation strategies. We conducted a cross-sectional, observational survey of hydrology, soils, plant communities, and cattle forage resource use across 24 functional montane meadows of the central Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in California, USA. By linking principles of plant community ecology and foraging theory, we were able to unravel relationships and drivers between hydropedologic conditions, plant community characteristics, and cattle grazing patterns. Our work demonstrates that hydrology is a critical driving factor of cattle foraging response, plant community attributes, and soil properties across these wetland ecosystems. Results indicate that these systems are resilient to the observed gradient of grazing disturbances. This information advances our understanding of how meadow-scale heterogeneity can be utilized in managing for multiple, and potentially conflicting, ecosystem services across working landscapes-particularly in the face of projected future climate changes and continually limited resources to support conservation and restoration projects. Copyright:

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