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Rotational Grazing on Rangelands: Reconciliation of Perception and Experimental Evidence
Abstract and Figures
In spite of overwhelming experimental evidence to the contrary, rotational grazing continues to be promoted and implemented as the only viable grazing strategy. The goals of this synthesis are to 1) reevaluate the complexity, underlying assumptions, and ecological processes of grazed ecosystems, 2) summarize plant and animal production responses to rotational and continuous grazing, 3) characterize the prevailing perceptions influencing the assessment of rotational and continuous grazing, and 4) attempt to direct the profession toward a reconciliation of perceptions advocating support for rotational grazing systems with that of the experimental evidence. The ecological relationships of grazing systems have been reasonably well resolved, at the scales investigated, and a continuation of costly grazing experiments adhering to conventional research protocols will yield little additional information. Plant production was equal or greater in continuous compared to rotational grazing in 87% (20 of 23) of the experiments. Similarly, animal production per head and per area were equal or greater in continuous compared to rotational grazing in 92% (35 of 38) and 84% (27 of 32) of the experiments, respectively. These experimental data demonstrate that a set of potentially effective grazing strategies exist, none of which have unique properties that set one apart from the other in terms of ecological effectiveness. The performance of rangeland grazing strategies are similarly constrained by several ecological variables establishing that differences among them are dependent on the effectiveness of management models, rather than the occurrence of unique ecological phenomena. Continued advocacy for rotational grazing as a superior strategy of grazing on rangelands is founded on perception and anecdotal interpretations, rather than an objective assessment of the vast experimental evidence. We recommend that these evidence-based conclusions be explicitly incorporated into management and policy decisions addressing this predominant land use on rangelands.
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