Ecosystem changes associated with grazing in subhumid South American grasslands

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Abstract:

Question: What are the changes in vegetation structure, soil attributes and mesofauna associated with grazing in mesic grasslands?

Location: Southern Campos of the Río de la Plata grasslands, in south-central Uruguay.

Methods: We surveyed seven continuously grazed and ungrazed paired plots. Plant and litter cover were recorded on three 5-m interception lines placed parallel to the fence in each plot. We extracted soil fauna from a 10 cm deep composite sample and analysed the oribatids. Soil attributes included bulk density, water content, organic carbon (in particulate and mineral associated organic matter) and nitrogen content and root biomass at different depths. Changes in floristic, Plant Functional Types and mesofauna composition were analysed by Non-metric Multidimensional Scaling.

Results: Species number was lower in ungrazed than in grazed plots. Of 105 species in grazed plots only three were exotics. Shrub and litter cover were significantly higher inside the exclosures, while the cover of Cyperaceae-Juncaceae was lower. Grazing treatments differed significantly in plant and oribatid species composition. Grazing exclusion significantly reduced soil bulk density and increased soil water content. Carbon content in particulate organic matter was lower in the upper soil of ungrazed sites, but deeper in the profile, grazing exclosures had 8% more carbon in the mineral associated organic matter.

Conclusions: Our results generally agree with previous studies but deviate from the results of previous analyses in (1) the increase of shrub cover in ungrazed sites; (2) the redistribution of the soil organic carbon in the profile and (3) the low invasibility of the prairies regardless of grazing regime.

Keywords: ORIBATIDE; PLANT FUNCTIONAL TYPE; SOIL ATTRIBUTE; SPECIES RICHNESS; URUGUAY

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2006

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