Currently, livestock management in the North American Great Plains aims for even use of forage, which creates a homogenous landscape. Reintroducing heterogeneity, defined here as the variation in vegetation structure and composition, to native North American rangelands is imperative to maintaining grassland biodiversity, and using a variety of cattle stocking rates on the landscape could accomplish this. We assessed effects of stocking rates on northern mixed-grass prairie vegetation structure, structural heterogeneity, and plant species diversity. The study took place in Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, Canada, using nine pastures (∼300 ha) that were grazed at a range of stocking rates from very low to very high for this region. Three of these pastures were ungrazed controls. We used generalized linear mixed models to describe effects of stocking rate on vegetation over 4 years, following the reintroduction of livestock grazing to this landscape after 15 years without grazing. We used a Mantel test to determine whether plant communities changed with varying stocking rates and over time. Effects of grazing on many response variables were cumulative and changed over time. Species richness in uplands increased with stocking rate and time, but richness decreased with stocking rate in lowlands. Heterogeneity generally increased with stocking rate and time in upland but not lowland habitats. While natural annual variability influenced many variables, the cumulative effects of grazing were still apparent. A variety of stocking rates could be used to maximize structural heterogeneity and provide a diversity of habitat structure at the landscape scale.
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Vol. 68 • No. 4