© 2019 Humans and wildfires have historically driven landscape structure in the Mediterranean basin. The Iberian Peninsula is not an exception to that rule, and therefore, farmers, researchers, and governments seek alternative tools to minimize the loss of biodiversity and wildfire risks. Extensive livestock including beef cattle is currently promoted as a suitable management tool by European agro-environmental policies yet pieces of evidence exist regarding the reciprocal effects between cows and Mediterranean woody vegetation. In this work, we performed a field manipulation to evaluate whether free-ranging beef cattle without supplementary feeding, at high density (2 livestock units (LU)/ha) for a short period of time i.e. “boom and bust grazing” management, are able to adapt their grazing preferences to the Mediterranean woody vegetation without health impairment, and prevent from bush encroachment and wildfires. For our purposes, a native herd of 14 adult cows was kept captive without supplementary feeding in a 14 ha enclosure covered by Mediterranean vegetation for two months (April–June 2016). Plant and cattle fecal and blood samples were collected to assess diet composition (plant cuticle microhistological analysis), fecal nitrogen and protein contents of consumed plants, and the nutritional status (non-esterified fatty acids) of cattle. Our results showed that cattle adapted their feeding habits toward a more woody diet including potentially flammable taxa but with some detrimental effects on health status. Hence, cattle cannot control woody vegetation for long periods of time without supplementary feeding. Further research should be oriented to explore other alternative approaches to minimize the health impairment of cattle used for control flammable vegetation in Mediterranean regions.
- Agro-environmental policies
- Animal Husbandry/methods
- Wildfires/prevention & control
- Mediterranean Region