Knowledge co-production with traditional herders on cattle grazing behaviour for better management of species-rich grasslands.
The research gap between rangeland/livestock science and conservation biology/vegetation ecology has led to a lack of evidence needed for grazing-related conservation management. Connecting scientific understanding with traditional ecological knowledge of local livestock keepers could help bridge this research and knowledge gap. We studied the grazing behaviour (plant selection and avoidance) of beef cattle (c. 33,000 bites) on species-rich lowland pastures in Central Europe and traditional herding practices. We also did >450 outdoor interviews with traditional herders about livestock behaviour, herders' decisions to modify grazing behaviour and effects of modified grazing on pasture vegetation. We found that cattle grazing on species-rich pastures displayed at least 10 different behavioural elements as they encountered 117 forage species from highly desired to rejected. The small discrimination error suggests that cattle recognize all listed plants 'by species'. We also found that herders had broad knowledge of grazing desire and they consciously aimed to modify desire by slowing, stopping or redirecting the herd. Modifications were aimed at increasing grazing intensity in less-desired patches and decreasing grazing selectivity in heterogenous swards. Synthesis and applications. The traditional herd management practices presented here have significant conservation benefits, such as avoiding under- and overgrazing, and targeted removal of pasture weeds, litter and encroaching bushes, tall competitive plants and invasive species. We argue that knowledge co-production with traditional herders who belong to another knowledge system could help connect isolated scientific disciplines especially if ecologists and rangeland scientists work closely with traditional herders, co-designing research projects and working together in data collection, analysis and interpretation. Stronger links between these disciplines could help develop evidence-based, specific conservation management practices while herders could contribute with their practical experiences and with real-world testing of new management techniques.