The practice of continuously grazing cattle along streams has caused extensive degradation of riparian habitats. Buffer strips and managed intensive rotational grazing (MIRG) have been proposed to protect and restore stream ecosystems in Wisconsin. However, the ecological implications of a switch from traditional livestock management to MIRG or buffer strip establishment have not been investigated. Differences in small mammal communities associated with riparian areas on continuously grazed and MIRG pastures, as well as vegetative buffer strips adjacent to row crops, were investigated in southwestern Wisconsin during May-September 1997 and 1998. More species (mean of 6-7) were found on the buffer sites than on the pasture sites (mean of 2-5). Total small mammal abundance on buffer sites was greater than on the pastures as well: there were 3-5 times as many animals on the buffer sites compared to the pasture sites, depending on year. There were no differences in species richness or total abundance between MIRG and continuously grazed pastures in either year. Total small mammal abundance was greater near the stream than away from the stream, regardless of farm management practice but there were no differences in species richness. Buffer strips appear to support a particularly rich and abundant small mammal community. Although results did not detect a difference in small mammal use between pasture types, farm-wide implications of a conversion from continuous to MIRG styles of grazing may benefit small mammals indirectly by causing an increase in the prevalence of pasture in the agricultural landscape.
Additional publication details
The impact of buffer strips and stream-side grazing on small mammals in southwestern Wisconsin