One hundred years of grazing by domestic herbivores hampered the ecological sustainability of the Patagonian steppes. We propose three management-related factors of such ecosystem degradation: (1) overestimation of carrying capacity of the rangelands, (2) inadequate distribution of animals in very large, heterogeneous paddocks, and (3) year-long continuous grazing. We suggest that these three management factors interact with the highly selective grazing habit of sheep generating a pattern of grazing heterogeneity at three scales: landscape, community, and population. Grazing differs in intensity among areas of the same paddock, among plant species, and even among individuals of the same species. As a consequence, the most palatable species within a patch are almost continuously subjected to a very high frequency of defoliation in the most preferred areas, which increases the mortality of the most preferred individuals of these forage species. We review the available ecological knowledge and range management technologies that may contribute to revert degradation. A quick assessment of both the availability and spatial heterogeneity of forage resources is now possible with the aid of remote sensing. Range assessment will allow to estimate the carrying capacity of each paddock, and separate different vegetation units. From information on the phenology of the different vegetation units it is possible to decide the timing of grazing and/or resting periods of single paddocks. Rotational grazing methods allow for a recovery of the most preferred species and for a reduction of the heterogeneity of defoliation at the three mentioned levels. Research efforts are needed to develop warning systems, improve the productivity and use efficiency of meadows, and design and evaluate grazing methods for the most arid areas of the region.
|Título:||Sustainability and range management in the Patagonian steppes|
|Autor:||Golluscio, R. A.; Deregibus, V. A.; Paruelo, J. M.|
|Título revista:||Ecología Austral|
|Editor:||Asociación Argentina de Ecología|
|Título revista abreviado:||Ecología Austral (en línea)|