Submitted to: Plant and Soil
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/2/2012
Publication Date: 5/25/2012
Citation: Smith, J.G., Eldridge, D.J., Throop, H.L. 2012. Landform and vegetation patch type moderate the effects of grazing-induced disturbance on carbon and nitrogen pools in a semi-arid woodland. Plant and Soil. 360:405-419. Interpretive Summary: Because rangelands cover a large portion of the globe, it is important to understand if and how their soils can be used to store carbon and help reduce atmospheric carbon and greenhouse gases. Also, soil nitrogen has a large influence on the productivity of rangelands. This study found that patterns in soil carbon and nitrogen in rangelands are not uniform and are difficult to predict. At any particular spot in a rangeland, they are affected by immediate environmental conditions at the spot, the location of the spot within the context of the surrounding land, disturbances from livestock grazing, and the interactions of these factors.
Technical Abstract: Background and aims Dryland soil organic carbon (C) pools account for a large portion of soil C globally, but their response to livestock grazing has been difficult to generalize. We hypothesized that some difficulty generalizing was due to spatial heterogeneity in dryland systems. We examined the importance of heterogeneity at vegetation and landform scales on the response of litter and soil C and nitrogen (N) to grazing. Methods Litter and soil C and N pools were quantified in different vegetation microsites (tree, shrub, open) and landform elements (dune, swale) across a grazing disturbance gradient in an eastern Australia semi-arid woodland. Vegetation, landform, and grazing disturbance affected litter and soil C and N pools singly and through interactions. Resource pools were distributed unevenly across vegetation and landforms, and were largest beneath trees in swales. Grazing reduced pools in vegetation-landform combinations where pools were greatest. Pool increases from high to moderate disturbance sites were minimal. Conclusions Litter and soil C and N pools are strongly affected by livestock grazing, although responses to grazing relaxation may be non-linear. Accurately predicting C and N responses to grazing in drylands will require accounting for patch differences at multiple spatial scales.