Sward structural heterogeneity enhances faunal and botanical biodiversity

Practice abstract


The experimental farm ‘Relliehausen’ of the University of Göttingen investigate the interactions between species diversity and suckler cow grazing of varying intensity. Three grazing intensities are applied, based on the sward height which is determined regularly during the grazing season by rising-plate-meter measurements. The three grazing intensities are moderate, lenient and very lenient with sward heights of 6, 12 and 18 cm, respectively, which are maintained throughout the grazing season by adapting the stocking rate. The grazing management results to different sward patches (tall and short), which affect the botanical diversity of the grassland. Lenient grazing (3 cows/ha) resulted in an increased structural heterogeneity of the sward (sward height distribution). Grasslands of moderate grazing (4 cows/ha) are dominated by short grass while grassland of very lenient grazing (2 cows/ha) shows mainly long grass patches. Hence, in both latter cases the heterogeneity in the sward height is lower. Heterogeneity is elementary for biodiversity. This structural diversity in the pasture favours the diversity of flora and fauna. One faunal biodiversity measure was derived by the abundance and the number of grasshoppers. Grasshoppers benefit from lenient and very lenient stocking rates as they depend on long grasses. Lenient grazing with heterogeneous sward structures promotes the abundance of invertebrates.

Extensive grazing shows best results to maintain and enhance bio-diverse grassland.

Furthermore a good individual animal performance/ha can be obtained at moderate or lenient stocking rates. Successive invasion of species from the Rosaceae family need to be handled with care. Otherwise the grassland deteriorates by shrub encroachment being less favourable for productive cattle grazing.

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Additional information

Farming system

conventional farming

Domains of innovation

grazing management system

Main types of animal

beef cattle



Product type

Practice abstract



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