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Influence of nonnative and native ungulate biomass and seasonal precipitation on vegetation production in a Great Basin ecosystem

November 1, 2014

The negative effects of equid grazers in semiarid ecosystems of the American West have been considered disproportionate to the influence of native ungulates in these systems because of equids' large body size, hoof shape, and short history on the landscape relative to native ungulates. Tools that can analyze the degree of influence of various ungulate herbivores in an ecosystem and separate effects of ungulates from effects of other variables (climate, anthropomorphic disturbances) can be useful to managers in determining the location of nonnative herbivore impacts and assessing the effect of management actions targeted at different ungulate populations. We used remotely sensed data to determine the influence of native and nonnative ungulates and climate on vegetation productivity at wildlife refuges in Oregon and Nevada. Our findings indicate that ungulate biomass density, particularly equid biomass density, and precipitation in winter and spring had the greatest influence on normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) values. Our results concur with those of other researchers, who found that drought exacerbated the impacts of ungulate herbivores in arid systems.

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