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Effect of animal husbandry on herbivore-carrying capacity at a regional scale


ALL significant properties of the herbivore trophic level, including biomass, consumption and productivity, are significantly correlated with primary productivity across a broad range of terrestrial ecosystems1,2. Here we show that livestock biomass in South American agricultural ecosystems across a 25-fold gradient of primary productivity exhibited a relationship with a slope essentially identical to unmanaged ecosystems, but with a substantially greater y-intercept. Therefore the biomass of herbivores supported per unit of primary productivity is about an order of magnitude greater in agricultural than in natural ecosystems, for a given level of primary production. We also present evidence of an increase in livestock body size with primary productivity, a pattern previously characterized in natural ecosystems3. To our knowledge this is the first quantitative documentation at a regional scale of the impact of animal husbandry practices, such as herding, stock selection and veterinary care, on the biomass and size-structure of livestock herds compared with native herbivores.

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Oesterheld, M., Sala, O. & McNaughton, S. Effect of animal husbandry on herbivore-carrying capacity at a regional scale. Nature 356, 234–236 (1992).

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