Effect of woody-plant encroachment on livestock production in North and South America

José D. Anadón, Osvaldo Sala, Billie Turner, Elena M. Bennett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

134 Scopus citations


A large fraction of the world grasslands and savannas are undergoing a rapid shift from herbaceous to woody-plant dominance. This land-cover change is expected to lead to a loss in livestock production (LP), but the impacts of woody-plant encroachment on this crucial ecosystem service have not been assessed. We evaluate how tree cover (TC) has affected LP at large spatial scales in rangelands of contrasting social-economic characteristics in the United States and Argentina. Our models indicate that in areas of high productivity, a 1% increase in TC results in a reduction in LP ranging from 0.6 to 1.6 reproductive cows (Rc) per km2. Mean LP in the United States is 27 Rc per km2, so a 1% increase in TC results in a 2.5% decrease in mean LP. This effect is large considering that woody-plant cover has been described as increasing at 0.5% to 2% per y. On the contrary, in areas of low productivity, increased TC had a positive effect on LP. Our results also show that ecological factors account for a larger fraction of LP variability in Argentinean than in US rangelands. Differences in the relative importance of ecological versus nonecological drivers of LP in Argentina and the United States suggest that the valuation of ecosystem services between these two rangelands might be different. Current management strategies in Argentina are likely designed to maximize LP for various reasons we are unable to explore in this effort, whereas land managers in the United States may be optimizing multiple ecosystem services, including conservation or recreation, alongside LP.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12948-12953
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number35
StatePublished - Sep 2 2014


  • Food production
  • Global change
  • Social-ecological systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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