SCIENTISTS at Lancaster University have helped to prove that grazing animals are improving biodiversity by increasing the amount of light available for plants at ground level.

The research, published in Nature, was carried out by an international team of scientists led by the University of Minnesota and including Lancaster University.

Scientists at 40 sites on six continents set up research plots with and without added fertiliser and with and without fences to keep out the local herbivores such as kangaroos and zebras – or in the case of a site in Lancashire, deer, sheep and rabbits.

The scientists measured the amount of plant material grown, how much light reached the ground, and number of species of plants growing in the plots.

On both fertilised and unfertilised plots, where removal of vegetation by herbivores increased the amount of light that struck the ground, plant species diversity increased.

Dr Carly Stevens, of Lancaster University, said: “This experiment demonstrates how grazing shapes our grassland ecosystems and provides benefits to biodiversity. By carefully managing grazing in grasslands habitats hopefully we can offset at least some of the damage that can be done by fertilisers.”