Pressures from livestock production

2016

Livestock production is the dominant land use in the extensive land-use zone of Australia (see the Land report for further information). It is considered a major contributing factor to the decline of 8 threatened mammal species and a significant pressure on a further 8 near threatened species under The action plan for Australian mammals 2012 (Woinarski et al. 2014). Small mammal populations in northern Australia have been shown to increase rapidly in diversity and abundance following destocking of grazing animals (Legge et al. 2011).

Conclusive evidence for the impact of grazing on bird assemblages has proven difficult to attain (Kutt et al. 2012). However, the local extinction of several bird species has been co-attributed to the impact of grazing livestock and associated management changes, in conjunction with other threats.

Changes to ecological processes arising from damage to biological soil crusts are likely to be particularly significant. Biological soil crusts occur as extensive carpets of lichens, bryophytes and cyanobacteria, which play a major function as the dominant primary producers on which other organisms depend as a food source at multiple levels in the food chain in arid and semi-arid Australia. In north-western Victoria, only 5 per cent of native vegetation remains. In remnant grassy woodlands of the region, biological soil crusts are abundant in areas with low tree and litter cover, and where disturbance is minimal (Read et al. 2008, 2011). But this important element of the ecosystem is often reduced or absent in the many remnants used for livestock shelter, and there is a strong negative correlation between remnant size and livestock disturbance (Duncan et al. 2008, Duncan & Dorrough 2009), with negligible crust cover in highly disturbed, small sites.

Cresswell ID, Murphy H (2016). Biodiversity: Pressures from livestock production. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/theme/biodiversity/topic/2016/pressures-livestock-production, DOI 10.4226/94/58b65ac828812