Modelling the spatial dynamics of a semi-arid grazing system.
Koch, Kathryn Jane.
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A large proportion of the world's land surface is covered by semi-arid grasslands, and they provide an important source of income as a grazing resource. A more comprehensive understanding of these complex ecosystems is vital for the effective management of rangelands, as it will lead to an increased and more sustainable economic output. Herbivores modify the spatial pattern of vegetation distribution and their response to spatially heterogeneous forage resources affects their performance. The spatial aspect of herbivory is often ignored although it is a necessary component of understanding grazing dynamics and the factors affecting herbivore condition. A spatial model is developed which incorporates vegetation and animal dynamics and the interactions between these two components. The effect of different spatial foraging strategies on animal performance and vegetation was investigated. Model results were compared with the output of a non-spatial model to assess the importance of spatially explicit modelling in the context of monitoring animal performance. The relative significance of a number of aspects relating to spatial grazing and animal condition was explored. The results from this research show that significant differences in output are obtained from spatial versus non-spatial models. While the purpose of a model will determine its nature, the results imply that in certain contexts, a spatial model is essential for accurate results and insight. The results also indicated that foraging strategies have a large affect on herbivore condition and that spatially explicit models are necessary in the context of investigating the effect of foraging strategies on animal performance. Various aspects that significantly affected animal condition were highlighted and are useful in directing future investigations into grazing dynamics. It is difficult to conduct field studies under spatially and temporally variable conditions where the interactions between vegetation and herbivores are so complex. In the light of this, modelling was found to be an effective tool that can be used in investigating and revealing important dynamics of semi-arid grazing systems.
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