Stages of Habitat Structural Trend That are Related to Ungulate Browsing

Scientific Disciplines
Biological Sciences - Terrestrial
Fish and Wildlife Service
Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
Plant taxonomy
Trees and shrubs
ungulate browsing
Volume 16, No. 4

Stages of habitat structural trend that are related to 
ungulate browsing

Richard B. Keigley,* U.S. Geological Survey, Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, Bozeman, 
Montana 59718
Jeffrey M. Warren, USDI Fish and Wildlife Service, Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, 
Lakeview, Montana 59739
Wayne King, USDI Fish and Wildlife Service, Regional Office Region 6, Denver, Colorado 80225
To maintain their structural identity, communities of tall-growing trees and shrubs 
depend on the growth of young plants to replace mature individuals that die.  Ungulate 
browsing influences that structure by permitting or preventing the height growth of young 
plants.  The resulting changes in structure are indicted by the browsing-related architectures 
of plants that grow within the browse zone, i.e., those ≤ 2.5 m tall. Using examples 
from six National Wildlife Refuges, we describe six stages of structural trend and their 

management implications: 1) Structure is Stable, i.e., all plants have Uninterrupted-growth-
type architecture; 2) Early Stage of Structural Decline most or all plants have Arrested- or 
Retrogressed-type architecture and there is no visible evidence of dieback; 3) Intermediate 
Stage of Structural Decline, i.e., all plants have Arrested- or Retrogressed-type architecture, 
dieback is apparent, and live stems extend throughout the lower half of the browse zone; 4) 
Advanced Stage of Decline, i.e., all plants have Arrested- or Retrogressed-type architecture 
and live stems are restricted to the lowest part of the browse zone;  5) Structure is Lost, i.e., 
no live plants; and  6) Recovery of Structural Diversity, i.e., there is evidence that the Early, 
Intermediate, or Advanced Stage of Decline existed, and that young Uninterrupted-growth 
type plants are growing into the browse zone. Three factors influence the rate-of-change 
from one stage to another: Susceptibility, Resistance, and Resilience. Because the stages 
are independent of species composition, they provide a means of comparing the effect of 
browsing in diverse habitats across a region.