The Ecological Effects of Cattle Grazing on Reptiles and Small Mammals in a San Joaquin Valley Grassland
Available at: https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/theses/1157
Date of Award
MS in Biological Sciences
John D. Perrine
Livestock grazing is a common and extensive land use practice in the United States occurring in a wide range of habitat types. As such, livestock grazing has the potential to alter ecosystem structure, function and community composition. The primary component (Chapter 1) of this thesis examined the effects of cattle grazing in a San Joaquin Valley grassland on two target taxa: reptiles and small mammals. The study took place on the Chimineas Unit of the Carrizo Ecological Reserve, San Luis Obispo County, California during Fall 2009 and Spring 2010. These taxa were sampled on matched pairs of two grazed and two ungrazed sites. Live trapping methods appropriate to sampling reptiles (coverboards and pit fall traps) and small mammals (Sherman live traps) were used to determine species richness and abundance of these taxa. Uta stansburiana (side-blotched lizard) abundances were greatest on Ungrazed1 (Fall: 1.75±0.49 captures/night, Spring: 3.58±0.35 captures/night). In addition, Chaetodipus californicus (Spiny pocket mouse) abundance was also greatest on Ungrazed1. Population estimates generated by Program CAPTURE suggest C. californicus could be 6.27 times more abundant on Ungrazed1 than Grazed1. However, sample size issues and site level effects confounded and made it difficult to determine significant differences between the grazed and ungrazed treatments for both reptile and small mammal taxa. Habitat structure at these sites was also evaluated including small mammal burrow abundance and vegetation structure. Again, differences between the grazed and ungrazed pasture could not be discerned because of site level effects occurring among matched pairs. As such, this thesis illustrates the difficulty in studying grazing and its potential effects on biotic systems because an array of variables can make unclear the differences between grazed and ungrazed areas. As a follow up study (Chapter 2) I used logistic regression to model U. stansburiana presence to examine possible sources of variation observed at trapping array locations utilized in the main study (Chapter 1). Shrubs exhibited a quasi-complete separation of data points and the three best models included: 1) Bare soil cover (AICc = 28.12), 2) Holes (AICc = 29.76), and 3) Bare soil cover + Holes (AICc = 29.90). Shrubs, bare soil cover and small mammal burrow density were all positively associated with U. stansburiana presence at array locations. Although species have general habitat requirements based upon their ecology and evolution, variations in habitat utilization exists depending upon the resources present at a specific location. Quantifying basic ecological information on a site specific basis is important to managing populations by identifying important resources and habitat components utilized by a given species on a given site.