Evidence based review: Positive versus negative effects of livestock grazing on wildlife. What do we really know?

Jennifer M. Schieltz, Daniel Ian Rubenstein

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

127 Scopus citations


More than a quarter of earth's land surface is used for grazing domestic livestock. Livestock grazing is generally assumed to negatively affect wildlife, however, a number of studies have found positive impacts as well. We conducted an evidence-based review of the existing literature using a series of livestock- and wildlife-related search words to systematically query Google Scholar and Web of Science. A total of 807 sources were included in the final list, including 646 primary sources which reported original data. The majority of studies were conducted in North America (338) or Europe (123), with many fewer from Africa (57), Australia (54), Central/South America (43), or Asia (31). Most studies examined birds (330) and mammals (262), with fewer including reptiles (91) or amphibians (58). We extracted further information from studies that included mammals on positive, negative, and neutral effects of livestock grazing on mammals. We found that livestock change vegetation structure and cover in ways important to small mammals, while ungulates may be affected more by interference competition and changes in forage quantity and quality. Community-level total abundance of small mammals typically declines with grazing. Species richness of small mammals either declines or stays the same, as many studies found a change in species composition from ungrazed to grazed sites while the number of species remained similar. Individual species responses of small mammals vary. Voles, harvest mice, cotton rats, and shrews show consistently negative responses to grazing while deer mice, kangaroo rats, ground squirrels, and lagomorphs show positive or variable responses. In general, species adapted to open habitats are often positively affected by grazing, while species needing denser cover are negatively affected. Studies of wild ungulates are more variable in methodology and quality than those for small mammals. We found more negative (n = 86) than positive (n = 34) ungulate responses overall, however, most studies have been on browsers and mixed feeders, namely deer and elk, and there is little available data for other groups. Although data is limited, several of the grazing species in Africa may show a trend toward positive responses, suggesting possible facilitation. For a number of species, responses varied by season. We find a strong need for additional research on ungulates of varying diets and body sizes, especially in the developing world, and across longer time scales to examine possible tradeoffs between competition and facilitation from livestock.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number113003
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 11 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


  • grazing
  • livestock
  • livestock-wildlife interactions
  • mammal
  • ungulate
  • wildlife


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