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Biodiversity of Rangelands

Neil E. West
Journal of Range Management
Vol. 46, No. 1 (Jan., 1993), pp. 2-13
DOI: 10.2307/4002440
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4002440
Page Count: 12
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Abstract

Biodiversity is a multifaceted phenomenon involving the variety of organisms present, the genetic differences among them, and the communities, ecosystems, and landscape patterns in which they occur. Society will increasingly value biodiversity and influence the passage of laws and writing of regulations involving biodiversity which rangeland managers will have to abide by over the coming decades. Even private and developing world rangelands will be affected. While taxonomic knowledge of vertebrates and vascular plants and their abundance, rarity, and distribution, in the developed nations is generally adequate, the same cannot be said of the developing world. Furthermore, adequate knowledge of invertebrates, nonvascular plants, and microbes is deficient everywhere. Although the basis of variation at all higher levels, genetic variation within rangeland species, even the major ones, has barely been assessed. Obtaining statistically adequate data on populations of rare species that are small and secretive is well nigh impossible. We have many means of measuring community diversity, but all of them are value laden. That is, choice of variables to measure and how they are indexed betrays what we consider are important. We should be more forthright in stating to the users the biases of these methods. There are many other, more useful ways to describe community-level diversity besides the traditional focus on species. Ungulate grazing is an important process in many ecosystems. Thus, removal of grazing destabilizes some systems. Livestock grazing will actually increase the chances of survival of some species. Moderate livestock grazing can also enhance community and landscape-level diversity in many instances. Attention is now shifting from "charismatic" species to defensively managing larger tracts of land with habitat or ecosystems holding suites of sensitive species. Since some accelerated extinction of isolated populations and species is inevitable, we need to know which species and ecotypes are most valuable. Understanding of modular, guild, and functional group structure would also help us identify keystone or critical link species and better focus our attention on truly important tracts of land where they live. It is probably more important to sustain soils and ecosystem processes than any randomly selected species, especially if functionally redundant species can be identified. Similarly, not all introduced, alien, or exotic species are equal threats; it depends on how they fit into ecosystems. Sustainable development will depend on finding balance between use and protection, from range sites to landscapes, and even on a global basis.

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