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Keywords:

  • bird;
  • frog;
  • grazing;
  • impact;
  • mammal;
  • rangeland;
  • reptile

Abstract 

Despite the hegemony of pastoralism over most of Australia’s tropical savannas, its impacts upon biodiversity are poorly known. There is even less knowledge about the impacts of military training, a recent, but rapidly expanding, alternative land use. We compare impacts of these land uses upon mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs at a site in north-eastern Australia, with sampling from 24 quadrats stratified by four landscape positions (upper slope to riparian) and three current land-use types (pastoralism, military training and undisturbed). Prior to exclusion in 1967, the whole study area had been subjected to grazing over the course of approximately 100 years, so differences observed strictly reflect responses to changed land use (largely cessation from grazing) over the period of 32 years subsequent to the imposition of the present regime. The four classes of vertebrates showed contrasting responses. Frog distribution was unrelated to land use, but strongly associated with landscape position. Reptiles showed a very strong response to land-use type but not to landscape position. The total abundance and richness of reptiles was greater in ungrazed (i.e. military and undisturbed) than in grazed quadrats. The total abundance and species richness of birds varied strongly with landscape position but was unrelated to land use. However, many individual bird species showed significant responses to land-use type, and bird species composition was significantly related to both land-use type and landscape position. The richness of the mammal fauna was weakly related to landscape position and not related to land-use type. A few individual mammal species showed significant responses to either or both factors, but mammal species composition was significantly (albeit weakly) related only to land-use type. With due regard to some interpretative constraints in the study design, and the history of the site prior to this study, these results suggest that pastoralism leads to a substantial rearrangement of the vertebrate fauna, and particularly so for reptiles and those mammals and birds associated with the ground and understorey layers. Given the extent of pastoralism across the tropical savannas, these results suggest that this industry has contributed to major and widespread change in the savanna fauna. In contrast to pastoralism, military land use (at least at the relatively low intensity examined here) produced little change in vertebrate assemblages.