Wild burros (Equus asinus), protected by the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act on some federal lands but exotic animals many ecologists and resource mangers view as damaging to native ecosystems, represent one of the most contentious environmental management problems in American Southwest arid lands. This review synthesizes the scattered literature about burro effects on plant communities of the Mojave Desert, a center of burro management contentions. I classified 24 documents meeting selection criteria for this review into five categories of research: (i) diet analyses directly determining which plant species burros consume, (ii) utilization studies of individual species, (iii) control-impact comparisons, (iv) exclosure studies, and (v) forage analyses examining chemical characteristics of forage plants. Ten diet studies recorded 175 total species that burros consumed. However, these studies and two exclosure studies suggested that burros preferentially eat graminoid and forb groups over shrubs. One study in Death Valley National Park, for example, found that Achnatherum hymenoides (Indian ricegrass) was 11 times more abundant in burro diets than expected based on its availability. Utilization studies revealed that burros also exhibit preferences within the shrub group. Eighty-three percent of reviewed documents were produced in a 12-year period, from 1972 to 1983, with the most recent document produced in 1988. Because burros remain abundant on many federal lands and grazing may interact with other management concerns (e.g., desert wildfires fueled by exotic grasses), rejuvenating grazing research to better understand both past and present burro effects could help guide revegetation and grazing management scenarios.
Animal Sciences | Desert Ecology | Environmental Indicators and Impact Assessment | Environmental Sciences | Zoology
Abella, S. R.
A Systematic review of wild burro grazing effects on Mojave Desert vegetation, USA.
Environmental Management, 41(6),