Long-Term Protection from Heavy Livestock Grazing Affects Ponderosa Pine Understory Composition and Functional Traits

Robert T. Strahan, Daniel C. Laughlin, Jonathan D. Bakker, Margaret M. Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Making accurate predictions of plant community responses to grazing management is a major objective of rangeland ecology. Metrics such as species composition are site specific, whereas others such as functional groups and functional traits can be generalized across different rangeland types. We analyzed long-term (1912-1941) shifts in the understory community at five sites in a ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa P. & C. Lawson var. scopulorum Engelm.) forest when protected from heavy livestock grazing. We examined differences in total basal cover, species composition, species richness, functional group composition, and community-weighted mean (CWM) functional traits between heavily grazed and ungrazed areas in four time periods (1912, 1920, 1930, 1940). Total understory basal cover was greater in ungrazed than heavily grazed areas in 1920 but not in later time periods. Understory species composition diverged by 1930 and continued to differ in 1940. Functional group composition differed from 1920 onwards. In 1920 and 1930, C3 graminoids declined more in relative abundance in heavily grazed than ungrazed areas. By 1940, forbs accounted for much more of the cover in heavily grazed than ungrazed areas. During the study period, CWM specific leaf area and foliar Nmass declined by 8% and 11%, respectively, in ungrazed quadrats, while CWM leaf dry matter content increased 8%. Leaf traits, but not maximum height or seed mass, demonstrated consistent and predictable responses to protection from heavy grazing. Herbaceous understory species with leaf traits that allow for slower resource acquisition became more abundant in response to protection from heavy grazing. Our results indicate that managers should expect to observe more rapid changes in functional group composition and leaf functional traits than in species composition and species richness following protection from heavy livestock grazing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)257-265
Number of pages9
JournalRangeland Ecology and Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2015


  • community-weighted mean traits
  • long-term studies
  • max vegetative height
  • plant functional traits
  • seed mass
  • specific leaf area

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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