Domestic livestock as ecosystems engineers:
Possibilities and pitfalls - Linking case study and landscape approach

Albin Blaschka and Thomas Guggenberger

(HBLFA Raumberg-Gumpenstein)
Vortrag, gehalten im Rahmen der Tagung der SER Europe in Reykjavik, Island am 13.September 2018

Die Vortragsfolien


For large scale restoration of cultural landscapes consisting of low-productivity ecosystems, the use of livestock has turned out to be an effective tool for management and restoration.

Here, the combined lessons from several case studies dealing with high pasture management and restoration using livestock in the Austrian Alps are discussed. These lessons can be summarised best by five topics: People, scale, governance, "wicked problems" and local knowledge. Ecological Restoration has to consider working within a social-ecological ecosystem and to follow a landscape approach.

Browsing or grazing livestock has the potential to influence natural processes: Trampling, nutrient relocation and different behavioural patterns influence habitats directly, but livestock shapes the landscape also indirectly, as a distinct land-use pattern with its people, traditions and logistics. Using livestock, it is possible with low effort to keep or restore an open landscape, thus preserving such often endangered extensive ecosystems and habitats with a high diversity.

Working with livestock also brings constraints and responsibilities, leading to pitfalls: Often, the vegetation to change (e.g. working against shrub encroachment) has a reduced carrying capacity for livestock - Requirements for restoration and nutritional requirements of animals are opposing needs. This is one of several wicked problems which can arise, which has to be tackled already during the planning phase, with involvement of owners, clear priorities and transparent procedures/contingency plans.

On the social-ecological side, doing restoration work using livestock broadens the scope of agriculture into a stewardship for the landscape and connects restoration work with the local community and economy, interacting with other land uses, fostering a multifunctional landscape. For pursuing ecological goals using livestock, it is most of the time necessary to follow cultural goals. Done right, considering the five points mentioned, the benefit is a sustainable, low cost method for the restoration of open habitats.