The use of domestic herbivores for ecosystem management in Mediterranean landscapes

Ines Ribeiro*, Tiago Domingos, DI McCracken, Vania Proenca

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
12 Downloads (Pure)


In the Mediterranean basin, the structure and species composition of traditional landscapes have historically been shaped and maintained by human-driven disturbances, such as extensive live-stock grazing. The cessation of these activities, which have partially replaced the role of natural disturbances, may lead to vegetation overgrowth and biomass accumulation, with potential adverse impacts on biodiversity, ecosystem functions and services. Recently, the use of livestock for ecosystem management, with the purpose of maintaining grazing disturbance and the associated ecosystem processes, has been gaining traction. Nevertheless, there is still limited evidence on the performance of such grazing interventions. This review assesses the state of the art regarding the use of livestock for ecosystem management in Mediterranean landscapes. It examines the association between the regime and duration of grazing interventions and their reported effects on ecosystems. The list of reviewed interventions (68 interventions, retrieved from 47 studies) covered a diverse range of landcover systems (from grasslands to forests), of grazing regimes (characterized by different levels of grazing intensity and livestock species), and of duration of grazing (from short-term, < 5 years to long-term grazing, > 20 years). Wildfire prevention and biomass control, biodiversity and habitat conservation and the regulation of soil quality are the main reasons for the use of grazing interventions. The results of this review suggest that the use of domestic herbivores in ecosystem management can contribute to wildfire prevention and biomass control, with these positive effects fading away in long-term grazing interventions. Goats seem to perform better than cattle for biomass control. The effects on biodiversity and habitat conservation depend on the grazing regime, with intensive grazing showing negative results, while the effects on soil quality are generally negative but require further assessment, due to data limitations.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02577
Number of pages16
JournalGlobal Ecology and Conservation
Issue numbere02577
Early online date11 Jul 2023
Publication statusPrint publication - Oct 2023


  • Ecosystem management
  • Mediterranean landscapes
  • Grazing interventions
  • Livestock grazing
  • Ecosystem services

Rural Policy Centre Themes

  • Environment and climate
  • Land use and land reform


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