Although feral horses have inhabited western North America since the end of the 16th century, relatively little synecological research has been conducted to quantitatively characterize how they interact with ecosystem components. Because feral horses exhibit watering behavior markedly different from that of domestic cattle, it is particularly important to evaluate response of ecosystem elements near water sources to horse use. To assess this response, we performed live-trapping of small mammals and 2-tiered vegetative sampling in 2 mountain ranges in central Nevada in the interior Great Basin, USA. At low elevations, plots around horse-excluded springs exhibited notably greater plant species richness, percent cover, and abundance of grasses and shrubs, as well as more small mammal burrow entrances than plots at horse-grazed springs. At high elevations, meadows protected from grazing exhibited maximum vegetation heights 2.8 times greater than vegetation grazed by horses only and 4.5 times greater than vegetation grazed by horses and cattle. Species richness in quadrats was most different between the horse-and-cattle-grazed meadow and its ungrazed counterpart, suggesting the possibility of synergistic effects of horse and cattle grazing in the same location. This study, the first in the Great Basin to investigate quantitatively ecosystem consequences of feral horse use with exclosures, represents a preliminary step in identifying factors that determine the magnitude of horse grazing impacts.
Beever, Erik A. and Brussard, Peter F.
"Examining ecological consequences of feral horse grazing using exclosures,"
Western North American Naturalist: Vol. 60:
3, Article 2.
Available at: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/wnan/vol60/iss3/2