New publication: mechanical hoof tests effect of livestock on native snail populations

Mechanical Hoof

Livestock trampling and forest snail biodiversity

Even low frequency trampling by livestock can reduce the density and biodiversity of forest snails, according to experimental evidence collected using a mechanical cow hoof.

A team led by recent UWA Masters graduate Lisa Denmead devised and constructed the pneumatic cow’s hoof, using it to simulate different trampling frequencies and measure the effect on native land snail populations in remnant forest in New Zealand.

“New Zealand has one of the most species-rich snail faunas in the world; also, importantly for research, they are known as a group that is sensitive to environmental disturbance,” Ms Denmead says.

“We found even a very small amount of livestock trampling in native forests can have a large negative effect on snails.”

When Ms Denmead used the mechanical hoof to simulate even the lowest frequency trampling – equivalent to a herd of 45 adult Friesian cows traversing a standard-sized remnant twice in six weeks – the number of snails per square metre dropped by an average of 42, and biodiversity declined by 10 snail species per plot.

Higher intensity trampling—equivalent to weekly trampling by the same herd over six weeks—reduced snail numbers by 100 snails per square metre, cutting biodiversity from 91 species down to 78 species.

Download the publication for more details of our work here.