Experimental evidence that livestock grazing intensity affects the activity of a generalist predator

Nacho Villar, Xavier Lambin, Darren Evans, Robin Pakeman, Steve Redpath*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
11 Downloads (Pure)


Grazing by domestic ungulates has substantial impacts on ecosystem structure and composition. In grasslands of the northern hemisphere, livestock grazing limits populations of small mammals, which are a main food source for a variety of vertebrate predators. However, no experimental studies have described the impact of livestock grazing on vertebrate predators. We experimentally manipulated sheep and cattle grazing intensity in the Scottish uplands to test its impact on a relatively abundant small mammal, the field vole (Microtus agrestis), and its archetypal generalist predator, the red fox (Vulpes vulpes). We demonstrate that ungulate grazing had a strong consistent negative impact on both vole densities and indices of fox activity. Ungulate grazing did not substantially affect the relationship between fox activity and vole densities. However, the data suggested that, as grazing intensity increased i) fox activity indices tended to be higher when vole densities were low, and ii) the relationship between fox activity and vole density was weaker. All these patterns are surprising given the relative small scale of our experiment compared to large red fox territories in upland habitats of Britain, and suggest that domestic grazing intensity causes a strong response in the activity of generalist predators important for their conservation in grassland ecosystems. (C) 2013 Elsevier Masson SAS. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-16
Number of pages5
JournalActa Oecologica
Early online date19 Mar 2013
Publication statusPublished - May 2013

Bibliographical note

Open Access funded by Natural Environment Research Council


  • grazing
  • upland grasslands
  • generalist predation
  • predator behaviour
  • field vole microtus agrestis
  • red fox vulpes vulpes
  • field vole populations
  • red fox
  • dynamics
  • Britain
  • abundance
  • sheep
  • grasslands


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