Grazing as a factor structuring grasslands in the Pyrenees
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Questions: What are the relative roles of abiotic and grazing management factors on plant community distribution in landscapes? How are livestock type and stocking rate related to changes in vegetation structure and composition? Location: Sub-alpine grasslands in the central and eastern Pyrenees. Methods: Multivariate analysis and variance partitioning methods were used to evaluate the relative roles of environmental factors in structuring vegetation composition and diversity patterns in three surveys on differently managed grasslands. Results: Vegetation composition within a region was affected by environmental factors hierarchically, changing first according to abiotic factors and then to grazing management. At landscape scales, abiotic factors explained two-fold more variation in vegetation composition than grazing factors. Within landscape units, cattle grazing increased vegetation heterogeneity at landscape and patch scales, while sheep grazing favoured the presence of a specific set of species with high conservation value. Species composition was highly responsive to management variables compared to diversity components. Conclusions: The combination of sheep and cattle grazing at various stocking rates is an effective tool to preserve the diversity of plant species and communities within a region with a long tradition of livestock management, through the scaling up of effects by local processes occurring in patches at smaller scales.