Grazing Systems

A large proportion of the surface of the Earth is covered by plant communities that are grazed and browsed by livestock and/or wild herbivores. These communities include natural or seminatural grasslands and shrublands such as the veldts of South Africa, the pampas and steppes of Argentina and Uruguay, or the plains and prairies of central North America as well as man-made grasslands created by the removal of natural forests for livestock production which are common, for example, in temperate, Mediterranean, and tropical regions (see Steppes and Prairies). Another important type of natural plant communities, which evolved with large herbivores are tropical savannas (see Savanna), that is, grasslands with scattered individual trees, which are common in Africa and Australia.

The impact of grazing and browsing animals on the dynamics and productivity of grasslands, shrublands, and savannas has been an important subject of basic and applied ecological research. Grazing is economically important because domestic livestock farming and traditional pastoral grazing systems are widespread all over the world. Here theoretical and applied questions are in mutually dependence because developing sustainable grazing management requires an understanding of the dynamics of the grazing system. Since the massive expansion of European settlers and their livestock at the beginning of the twentieth century into arid and semiarid areas of Africa, South and North America, and Australia, massive ecological changes have been observed in these rangelands. On the other hand, man maintains 'stable' grazing systems, especially in the Mediterranean, for thousands of years.

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