Management of rangelands has largely operated under the paradigm of minimizing spatially discrete disturbances, often under the objective of reducing inherent heterogeneity within managed ecosystems. This has led to a simplified understanding of rangelands and in many cases simplified rangelands. We argue that this type of management focus is incapable of maintaining biodiversity. An evolutionary model of disturbance (pyric-herbivory) suggests that grazing and fire interact through a series of feedbacks to cause a shifting mosaic of vegetation patterns across the landscape and has potential to serve as a model for management of grasslands with an evolutionary history of grazing. Our study demonstrates that the spatially controlled interaction of fire and grazing can be used to create heterogeneity in grassland ecosystems and the resulting heterogeneity in vegetation is expressed through other trophic levels, specifically small mammals in this study. Discrete fires were applied to patches, and patchy grazing by herbivores promoted a shifting vegetation mosaic across the landscape that created unique habitat structures for various small mammal species. Peromyscus maniculatus was about 10 times more abundant on recently burned patches (1–2 mo) than the uniform treatment or unburned patches within the shifting mosaic treatment. Chaetodipus hispidus was about 10 times greater in patches that were 15–20 mo post-fire in the shifting mosaic treatment than in the uniform treatment. Sigmodon hispidus, Microtus ochrogaster, and Reithrodontomys fluvescens became dominant in the shifting mosaic in patches that were more than 2 yr post-fire. This study, along with others, suggests that by managing transient focal patches, heterogeneity has the potential to be a new central paradigm for conservation of rangeland ecosystems and can enhance biological diversity and maintain livestock production across broad scales.
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