Phillip Lancaster, PhD
Wildlife are important to overall ecosystem function, are asthethically pleasing on range and pasture landscape, and provide recreation. When parts of the ecosystem change so can wildlife populations, and human activities have greatly altered the natural ecosystem. However, grazing of cattle on rangelands is much the same it was with bison many years ago – the large herbivore functions as an ecosystem engineer to create a variety of plant structures needed by wildlife. A recent analysis of published studies from the Great Plains region by researchers in the Department of Horticulture and Natural Resources and the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University found that grazing overwhelmingly had no effect or a positive effect on several wildlife communities. The one exception being herptile communities, but few studies evaluated herptiles and more research is needed. Generally, grazing had minimal negative effects although specific grazing practices were not evaluated. Many individual wildlife species responded to varying degrees to grazing such that heterogeneous grazing pressure across the landscape provides a diversity of plant communities and structures to satisfy the habitat requirements of many wildlife species. Grazing management practices that create a heterogenous landscape are likely to result in greater wildlife diversity.