The cascading impacts of livestock grazing in upland ecosystems: a 10-year experiment

Darren M. Evans, Nacho Villar, Nick A. Littlewood, Robin J. Pakeman, Sharon A. Evans, Peter Dennis, John Skartveit, Stephen M. Redpath

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Livestock grazing is a major driver of land-use change, causing significant biodiversity loss globally. Although the short-term effects of livestock grazing on individual species are well studied, a mechanistic understanding of the long-term, cascading impacts is lacking. We manipulated livestock densities using a unique, replicated upland experiment over a 10-year period and found significant effects of grazing treatment on plant and arthropod biomass; the number of Anthus pratensis breeding bird territories; the amplitude of Microtus agrestis population cycles and the activity of a top predator, Vulpes vulpes. Lower plant biomass as a result of higher stocking densities led to cascades across trophic levels, with fewer arthropods and small mammals, the latter affecting predator activity. Breeding bird territories were a function of arthropod abundance and vegetation structure heterogeneity. Our results provide a
novel food-web analysis in a grazing experiment to provide a mechanistic understanding of how foodwebs in upland ecosystems respond to long-term livestock grazing pressure, with consequences for management.
Original languageEnglish
Article number42
Number of pages15
Issue number3
Early online date30 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2015


  • agro-ecosystems
  • conservation
  • grassland
  • moorland
  • population cycles
  • trophic interactions


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