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Large manipulative experiments revealed variations of insect abundance and trophic levels in response to the cumulative effects of sheep grazing

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Author(s)

Jingchuan Ma, Xunbing Huang, Xinghu Qin, Yong Ding, Jun Hong, Guilin Du, Xinyi Li, Wenyuan Gao, Zhuoran Zhang, Guangjun Wang, Ning Wang, Zehua Zhang

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Abstract

Livestock grazing can affect insects by altering habitat quality; however, the effects of grazing years and intensities on insect abundance and trophic level during manipulative sheep grazing are not well understood. Therefore, we investigated these effects in a large manipulative experiment from 2014 to 2016 in the eastern Eurasian steppe, China. Insect abundance decreased as sheep grazing intensities increased, with a significant cumulative effect occurring during grazing years. The largest families, Acrididae and Cicadellidae, were susceptible to sheep grazing, but Formicidae was tolerant. Trophic primary and secondary consumer insects were negatively impacted by increased grazing intensities, while secondary consumers were limited by the decreased primary consumers. Poor vegetation conditions caused by heavy sheep grazing were detrimental to the existence of Acrididae, Cicadellidae, primary and secondary consumer insects, but were beneficial to Formicidae. This study revealed variations in insect abundance and trophic level in response to continuous sheep grazing in steppe grasslands. Overall, our results indicate that continuous years of heavy- and over- sheep grazing should be eliminated. Moreover, our findings highlight the importance of more flexible sheep grazing management and will be useful for developing guidelines to optimize livestock production while maintaining species diversity and ecosystem health.

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Original languageEnglish
Article number11297
Number of pages10
JournalScientific Reports
Volume7
DOIs
StatePublished - 12 Sep 2017

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