Effect of Rancher’s Management Philosophy, Grazing Practices, and Personal Characteristics on Sustainability Indices for North Central Texas Rangeland Page: 15
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Grazing Effects on Ecosystem Processes
The relationship between the ecosystem and the anthropogenic practice of livestock
grazing is very complex. In addition to affecting the three ecological functions of rangeland,
defoliation, trampling, and mineral deposition have varied affects on rangeland health and
rangeland processes. Grazing affects multiple rangeland characteristics including biomass, soil
nutrients, soil carbon, plant species composition, and forage quality (Teague et al., 2004).
Grazing alters plant physiological processes and nutrient cycling (Booth et al., 2003).
Rangeland ecologists generally accept that grazing by ungulates was instrumental in the
evolutionary history of grassland ecosystems (Milchunas et al., 1988, Knapp et al., 1999, Frank
and McNaughton, 2002). Because of this belief and other factors, to be discussed later, several
scientists have proposed that grazing of indigenous rangeland is one of the most sustainable
forms of agriculture known (Heitschmidt et al., 2004, Frank and McNaughton, 2002). At the
same time, there are many studies that implicate grazing as a very detrimental factor affecting
rangeland (Centeri et al., 2009; Belsky et al., 1999). Another controversial hypothesis is that
herbivory may, in some situations, increase range productivity (Belsky, 1986; McNaughton,
1989; Verkaar, 1986; Crawley, 1987; Hobbs and Swift, 1988; Westoby, 1989).
Natural rangeland communities are constantly responding to the effects of the most recent
disturbance, in most cases, never achieving a steady-state or climax stage. The absence of these
disturbances in grassland ecosystems results in a decline in species diversity and deterioration of
physical structure (Picket and White, 1985). Once disturbances cause damage beyond threshold
levels, it may never be possible to restore ecosystem functionality. Thresholds represent a
transition boundary which, when crossed, results in a new, degraded, stable state that is not
easily reversed without significant inputs of resources (NRCS, 2000). Severely degraded
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Becker, Wayne. Effect of Rancher’s Management Philosophy, Grazing Practices, and Personal Characteristics on Sustainability Indices for North Central Texas Rangeland, dissertation, December 2011; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc103289/m1/26/: accessed July 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .