Cease livestock grazing: Forest, open woodland & savanna

How is the evidence assessed?
  • Effectiveness
    not assessed
  • Certainty
    not assessed
  • Harms
    not assessed

Study locations

Key messages

  • Five studies evaluated the effects of ceasing livestock grazing in forest, open woodland and savanna on reptile populations. Two studies were in each of Argentina and Australia and one was in Mexico1.


  • Richness/diversity (4 studies): Three of four studies (including two replicated, site-comparison studies) in Mexico, Argentina and Australia found that ungrazed and grazed areas, in one case with burning, had similar reptile species richness and diversity. The other study found that in areas where livestock grazing was stopped, combined reptile and small mammal species richness increased more than in areas with grazing.


  • Abundance (5 studies): Two of five studies (including three replicated, site comparison studies) in Mexico, Argentina and Australia found that ungrazed areas had a higher abundance of reptiles and lizards than grazed areas. Two studies found that ungrazed areas, in one case with burning, had similar overall reptile or reptile and small mammal abundance compared to grazed areas. The other study found that grazing had mixed effects on reptile abundance.



About key messages

Key messages provide a descriptive index to studies we have found that test this intervention.

Studies are not directly comparable or of equal value. When making decisions based on this evidence, you should consider factors such as study size, study design, reported metrics and relevance of the study to your situation, rather than simply counting the number of studies that support a particular interpretation.

Supporting evidence from individual studies

  1. A paired, controlled study in 1991 of tropical deciduous forest ranchland in Baja California Sur, Mexico (Romero-Schmidt et al. 1994) found that lizard abundances tended to be higher in ungrazed sites compared to grazed sites. Results were not statistically tested. Thirty-two lizards were observed in ungrazed sites and seven in grazed sites. Five species were observed in both ungrazed and grazed sites: spiny lizard Sceloporus hunsakeri (ungrazed: 6 individuals, grazed: 2), Baja California brush lizard Urosaurus nigricaudus (16, 2), orange-throated whiptail Aspidoscelis hyperythrus hyperythrus (7, 1), spiny lizard Sceloporus licki (2, 1), and Baja blue rock lizard Petrosaurus thalassinus thalassinus (1, 1). Five 25 x 5 m transects at 5 m intervals were established in a 2,400 m2 exclosure with no grazing since 1989. The same survey set up was established in a grazed area 35 m outside the exclosure on a livestock ranch. Lizard abundance was measured by counting the number of lizards observed/time spent looking.

    Study and other actions tested
  2. A replicated, site comparison study in 1994–1998 in woodland savanna near Santo Domingo, Argentina (Leynaud & Bucher 2005) found that 25 years after cattle were excluded, overall snake and lizard abundances and diversity tended to be similar to adjacent grazed ranchland. A total of 82 snakes of 15 species and 136 lizards of 12 species were captured in ungrazed land compared to 71 snakes of 16 species and 182 lizards of 10 species in grazed land (results were not statistically tested). Species diversity was similar between ungrazed restored and grazed land (Shannon Wiener Diversity index of snakes ungrazed: 2.4, grazed: 2.4; lizards: 1.7, 1.6). One lizard and one snake species were more abundant in ungrazed land, and two lizards and one snake species were more abundant in grazed land (see paper for details). Reptiles were monitored in an area fenced in 1976 to exclude cattle and allow woodland regeneration (10,000 ha) and an adjacent overgrazed ranchland (7,500 ha). Surveys were carried out in six plots of each habitat type (>7 km apart) using drift fences with funnel traps (‘arrays’, 6 traps/array, one array/plot) in March 1994–March 1998 (152 non-consecutive days).

    Study and other actions tested
  3. A replicated, site comparison study in 2001 in savanna woodland in Queensland, Australia (Kutt & Woinarski 2007) found that overall reptile abundance and the abundance of five of 18 species was higher in ungrazed than grazed plots. Overall reptile abundance was higher in ungrazed (18.5–19.6 individuals/plot) than grazed plots (12.3–14.0), regardless of fire history. Of 32 reptile species observed, 18 were included in analysis (appeared in high enough numbers). Five species abundances were higher in ungrazed than grazed plots (eastern bearded dragons Pogona barbata ungrazed: 0.6–0.7 individuals/plot vs grazed: 0–0.1; variable fat-tailed geckoes Diplodactylus conspicillatus: 0.8–1.0 vs. 0.1–0.2; stout ctenotus Ctenotus hebetior: 2.6–4.3 vs. 2.0–2.3; leopard ctenotus Ctenotus pantherinus: 1.4–4.4 vs. 0–1.3, red-earth ctenotus Ctenotus rosarium: 1.9–2.0 vs. 1.0–1.3). Dwarf skink Menetia greyii abundance was lower in ungrazed (0–0.3) than grazed plots (1.0–1.3). The abundance of the remaining 12 species was similar in ungrazed and grazed plots. In January 2001, reptiles were monitored on three cattle stations (>20,000 ha each) in 29 one-ha plots that were either ungrazed (paddocks where cattle were excluded) or grazed (4–8 cattle/ha). Plots were also either recently burned (within 2 years) or unburned (last burnt >2 years ago). Reptiles were sampled using cage traps and pitfalls supplemented by day and night log rolling and litter raking.

    Study and other actions tested
  4. A site comparison study in 2006 of cattle pasture in Corrientes, Argentina (Cano & Leynaud 2010) found that overall reptile diversity, species richness and abundance were similar in ungrazed sites (with annual fires or no fire for three or 11 years) and grazed sites with annual prescribed fires. Overall reptile species richness, abundance and diversity were similar in ungrazed sites that had either annual fires or no fires for three or 11 years (richness: 3–4; abundance: 22–44, Shannon diversity index: 0.8–1.1) compared to grazed sites with annual prescribed fires (richness: 4; abundance: 17, Shannon diversity index: 1.1). Species composition was most similar in sites that were ungrazed with annual fires and sites that were grazed with annual fires (result reported as similarity index). Four areas (≥ 400 ha) were monitored: ungrazed and no fires for three years; no grazing or fires for 11 years; ungrazed with annual fires (August–September); grazed (3 ha/cattle unit) with annual fires. Monitoring was undertaken using drift-fencing with pitfall traps in January–April 2006 (80 survey days).

    Study and other actions tested
  5. A replicated, site comparison study in 1997–2007 in open woodland in south eastern Australia, Australia (Haby & Brandle 2018) found that following removal of domestic livestock, combined reptile and small mammal species richness, but not abundance, increased. Over 11 years, overall reptile and small mammal species richness increased after livestock removal in woodland (0.04 species/100 trap nights/year) compared to areas with livestock (0.01 species/100 trap nights/year). Over the same time period, livestock removal did not affect the change in overall reptile and small mammal abundance over time (no livestock: −0.40 individuals/100 trap nights/year; with livestock: −0.31). In 1997–2007, reptiles and small mammals were surveyed in two woodland sites (open mulga Acacia aneura woodland) with historical but no current domestic livestock grazing and two sites with livestock (sheep and/or cattle) grazing in the Flinders Ranges. Reptiles were surveyed using pitfall traps one–three times/year (23 surveys).

    Study and other actions tested
Please cite as:

Sainsbury K.A., Morgan W.H., Watson M., Rotem G., Bouskila A., Smith R.K. & Sutherland W.J. (2021) Reptile Conservation: Global Evidence for the Effects of Interventions for reptiles. Conservation Evidence Series Synopsis. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

Where has this evidence come from?

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Reptile Conservation

This Action forms part of the Action Synopsis:

Reptile Conservation
Reptile Conservation

Reptile Conservation - Published 2021

Reptile synopsis

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