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Keywords:

  • cattle, restoration, grazing, shrubs, montane pastures, tropics

Abstract

Over the last 150 years, a large proportion of forests in Latin America have been converted to pastures. When these pastures are abandoned, grasses may slow re-establishment of woody species and limit forest regeneration. In this study, we explored the use of cattle in facilitating the establishment of woody vegetation in Colombian montane pastures, dominated by the African grasses Pennisetum clandestinum (Kikuyo) and Melinis minutiflora (Yaraguá). First, we described woody and herbaceous vegetation in grazed and non-grazed pastures. Second, we tested the effect of grazing and seed addition on the establishment and growth of woody species. We also determined if the effect of grazing was different in P. clandestinum and M. minutiflora pastures. We found that low stocking density of cattle greatly increased density, number of branches per individual (a measure of “shrubiness”), and basal area of woody species, but also reduced woody plant species richness and diversity. In the grazed area, the shrubs Baccharis latifolia (Chilca) and Salvia sp. (Salvia) were the most abundant. The combined effect of grazing and shading from the shrubs reduced herbaceous vegetation by 52 to 92%. In the grazing/seed addition experiment, grazing increased establishment of woody seedlings, particularly of the shrub Verbesina arborea (camargo), but the largest effect was seed addition. Where grasses are an important barrier to regeneration, grazing can facilitate the establishment of shrubs that create a microhabitat more suitable for the establishment of montane forest tree species.