Long-term climate sensitivity of grazer performance: a cross-site study

TitleLong-term climate sensitivity of grazer performance: a cross-site study
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsCraine, JM
Pagination67065 -
Accession NumberKNZ001547
KeywordsAnimal performance, bison, Cattle, Climate change, Grasses, Grasslands, Meteorology, Weight gain

Climate change will affect grasslands in a number of ways, but the consequences of a warmer, drier world for grazers is uncertain. Predicting future grazer performance is complex since climate change affects both the quantity and quality of forage through a combination of processes that occur over a range of time scales. To better predict the consequences of climate change for grazer performance, a dataset was compiled of over a quarter million bison weights distributed across 22 US herds that span a large range of climates. Patterns of bison body mass among sites, age classes, and sexes were analyzed with respect to differences in geographic patterns of climate and interannual variation in climate. While short-term effects of climate variability are likely to depend on the magnitude and timing of precipitation during the year, grazers will be negatively affected by sustained hotter, drier conditions most likely associated with reductions in forage quality. Short-term, little effect of high temperatures on bison performance is observed, which suggests that the long-term effects of higher temperatures are likely to accrue over time as nitrogen availability in grasslands is reduced and forage quality declines. If relationships observed for bison are general for cattle, the economic consequences of higher temperatures due to decreased weight gain in US cattle could be on the order of US$1B per 1°C increase in temperature. Long-term monitoring of forage quality as well as native and domesticated grazer performance is recommended to better understand climate change effects on grazers.