Avifaunal changes as a consequence of large-scale livestock exclusion in the mountains of Central Argentina.
In the high Mountains of Córdoba (Central Argentina) large native herbivores were replaced completely by domestic livestock early in the 20th century. Recently, livestock were excluded in a large portion of the mountains to reduce alarming soil erosion rates, leading to an unnatural situation as the area has a long evolutionary history of large herbivore grazing. Many of the birds living in this area are endemic subspecies. Lack of large herbivore grazing can reduce plant diversity, but the response of birds is unknown. We surveyed birds in 46 1.8-ha transects distributed across eight vegetation units under (a) traditional livestock rearing and (b) 4 years of livestock exclusion. We described bird communities per transect using density and richness. The effects of grazing situation and vegetation units on these parameters were analysed by two-way analysis of variance (ANOVA). Additionally, we analysed bird composition through detrended correspondence analysis (DCA). Livestock exclusion caused, in all vegetation units, significant reductions in observed bird density and richness when all species were included in the analysis, and when the 12 endemic subspecies were considered separately. An analysis for each guild showed a similar pattern but differences were significant only for richness of insectivorous and granivorous birds. Vegetation units always showed significant differences in bird density and richness, with no significant interactions between vegetation and grazing situations. Community composition described through DCA was different between vegetation units but not between grazing situations. Endemic birds were associated mainly with rocky areas. Synthesis and applications. In areas where large native herbivores are locally extinct, extensive exclusion of domestic livestock is not recommended where bird conservation is also a priority. Where possible, we suggest reintroducing native large herbivores. Where reintroductions are not feasible, livestock must be excluded only from those sites where it is most necessary, and maintained elsewhere at reduced stocking rates. To mimic past natural grazing regimes more effectively, livestock grazing regimes should incorporate temporal fluctuations at seasonal, yearly and decade scales.