Regime shift in the interaction between domestic livestock and the deer-tiger food chain

The effects of grazing on wildlife have received considerable attention. Depending on factors such as its intensity and duration, grazing can impact higher-level species along the food chain through competition for available resources with wild herbivores. However, relatively few studies have investigated whether there are tipping points at which grazing intensity begins to seriously impact wildlife. In particular, studies that assess the impact of overgrazing on food chains that include carnivores remain scarce. We developed a time-dynamic, age-structured model for the wild ungulates-Amur tiger trophic chain, including cattle grazing as a disturbance. We explored 1) the impact of cattle grazing intensity on the long-term behaviour of the wildlife population; 2) the effect of demographic parameters on wildlife population viability; and 3) the temporal dynamic impact of periods of heavy grazing on the population trajectory. Our results showed that increasing cattle density reaches a tipping point, triggering a rapid and significant shift in wildlife population size. Below the tipping point, wildlife can coexist with grazing livestock; when cattle density exceeds the tipping point, wild ungulate and tiger populations move towards extinction. In the case of heavy grazing, the dynamics of the wild ungulate population were more affected by its intensity, and the dynamics of the Amur tiger population were more affected by its duration. Our model and results suggest that theoretically, wildlife conservation and cattle production can coexist but that serious regime shifts in wildlife populations may occur if grazing intensity exceeds a tipping point. These findings provide new insights useful for developing policies related to balancing livestock and wildlife conservation.

Wang, D., Wang, T. and Accatino, F., 2024. Regime shift in the interaction between domestic livestock and the deer-tiger food chain. Ecological Indicators160, p.111870.

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