Moderate sheep grazing in semiarid shrubland alters small-scale soil surface structure and patch properties

Carly Golodets, Bertrand Boeken

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    38 Scopus citations

    Abstract

    We investigated whether long-term moderate livestock grazing by sheep (ca. 10 animal unit days/ha) in a semiarid shrubland with a long-term average annual rainfall of 200 mm causes changes in soil surface structure and dimensions of shrub and intershrub patches. We examined grazing-induced changes in landscape patchiness, patch structure, and soil moisture in three grazed and three ungrazed plots of 4 m × 4 m on a south-facing slope and the opposite, more productive north-facing slope. The measurements were done in early spring 2001 and 2002 before grazing started, in two surveys, one using two parallel transects and one using sample quadrats of 20 cm × 30 cm under three shrubs per plot and on an adjacent part of the intershrub matrix. On the north-facing slope, the sheep reduced shrub patch size as they trampled the soil mounds under the shrubs and browsed the shrub canopy. Reduced shrub patch size decreases the area and resources available for plant production. On the south-facing slope, the sheep mainly disrupted the soil crust in the intershrub area. This may increase soil erosion, but also seedling establishment. The contrast in impacts on the two slopes is due to the interaction between environment (productivity, exposure and vegetation) and sheep behavior (herbivory and trampling). On both slopes, the changes due to grazing are significant, though small. Changes in patch size and properties induced by moderate grazing can have positive and negative effects on productivity and diversity, but may also be viewed as early signs of landscape degradation as is often caused by heavy grazing.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)285-291
    Number of pages7
    JournalCatena
    Volume65
    Issue number3
    DOIs
    StatePublished - 31 Mar 2006

    Keywords

    • Ecosystem engineering
    • Herbivory
    • Landscape patchiness
    • Shrub canopy architecture
    • Shrub mound size
    • Soil crust disturbance

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