Maintaining or enhancing the productive capacity and resilience of rangeland ecosystems is critical for the continued support of people who depend on them for their livelihoods, especially in the face of climatic change. This is also necessary for the continued delivery of ecosystem services derived from rangelands for the broader benefit of societies around the world. Multi-paddock grazing management has been recommended since the mid-20th century as an important tool to adaptively manage rangelands ecosystems to sustain productivity and improve animal management. Moreover, there is much anecdotal evidence from producers that, if applied appropriately, multi-paddock grazing can improve forage and livestock production. By contrast, recent reviews of published rangeland-based grazing systems studies have concluded that, in general, field trials show no superiority of vegetation or animal production in multi-paddock grazing relative to continuous yearlong stocking of single-paddock livestock production systems. Our goal is to provide a framework for rangeland management decisions that support the productivity and resiliency of rangelands and then to identify why different perceptions exist among rangeland managers who have effectively used multi-paddock grazing systems and research scientists who have studied them. First, we discuss the ecology of grazed ecosystems under free-ranging herbivores and under single-paddock fenced conditions. Second, we identify five principles underpinning the adaptive management actions used by successful grazing managers and the ecological, physiological, and behavioral framework they use to achieve desired conservation, production, and financial goals. Third, we examine adaptive management principles needed to successfully manage rangelands subjected to varying environmental conditions. Fourth, we describe the differences between the interpretation of results of grazing systems research reported in the scientific literature and the results reported by successful grazing managers; we highlight the shortcomings of most of the previously conducted grazing systems research for providing information relevant for rangeland managers who aim to achieve desired environmental and economic goals. Finally, we outline knowledge gaps and present testable hypotheses to broaden our understanding of how planned multi-paddock grazing management can be used at the ranching enterprise scale to facilitate the adaptive management of rangelands under dynamic environmental conditions.
Keywords: Adaptive management; Grazed ecosystems; Grazing systems; Rangeland restoration; Science and management; Socio-ecological resilience.
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