Removal of cattle grazing correlates with increases in vegetation productivity and abundance of imperiled breeding birds

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This study analyzed changes in vegetation and bird abundance at a wildlife refuge in southeastern Oregon over 24 years, following cessation of 120 years of livestock grazing. We quantified long-term changes in overall avian abundance and species richness and, specifically, in the abundances of 20 focal species. We then compared the local responses of the focal species to population-scale trends of the same species at three different large spatial scales. Overall avian abundance increased 23% during the 12 years after removal and remained consistent from then through year 24. Three times as many species colonized the survey sites as dropped out. Of the focal species, most riparian woodland-tree or shrub dependent, sagebrush obligate, and grassland or meadow taxa increased in abundance or remained stable locally. As these species were generally of conservation concern, the population increases contradicted regionally declining or stable trends. In contrast, most riparian woodland-cavity nester species decreased in abundance locally, reflecting disruption of aspen stand dynamics by decades of grazing. Avian nest parasites and competitors of native species declined in abundance locally, matching regional trends. Restoring riparian ecosystems by removing livestock appeared to be beneficial to the conservation of many of these declining populations of migratory birds.

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