Grazing Away: What happens to plant communities and carabid beetle communities when we use targeted sheep-grazing for weed management and cover crop termination?

Grazing at a particular point in a plant’s phenology can have dramatic impacts on its populations. Land managers have increasingly implemented targeted sheep-grazing for invasive weed management.  Grazing is also a promising method of terminating cover crops in an agricultural setting without relying on machinery.  However, our understanding of the ecological consequences of grazing is still burgeoning.  The specific ecological consequences on which my research focuses are how carabid beetle community structure and plant community structure differ between grazed and non-grazed systems.  I study carabid beetles because they are agriculturally benefical predators of pest insects and weed seeds. Additionally, I examine the differences in overall ecosystem health between the two systems as measured by physical soil properties such as temperature, moisture and penetration resistance. 

To address these questions, Drs. Goosey, Menalled, O’Neill and I are comparing the effects of targeted sheep-grazing with those of mowing for terminating cover crops on Towne’s Harvest Organic Farm.  In addition to our work with target sheep grazing, we are investigating how different cropping systems affect carabid beetle community structure and weed community structure, as well as how cattle-grazing in rangelands affects sage grouse habitat quality as measured by plant and insect communities.

I am generally interested in plant community ecology and restoration ecology.  My goal in pursuit of a Master’s degree in land rehabilitation is to gain a broad and diverse skill set that will enable me to become an effective practitioner of ecological restoration.  It is my hope that my research at Montana State University will better inform ecologically-sound land management practices in agricultural, range and natural systems.        

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