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Ploughing and grazing alter the spatial patterning of surface soils in a shrub-encroached woodland

Daryanto, Stefani, Eldridge, David J., Wang, Lixin
Geoderma 2013 v.200-201 pp. 67-76
animals, autocorrelation, biomass, feces, grazing, land management, plowing, shrublands, shrubs, soil crusts, soil properties, soil resources
Grazing is known to affect the spatial patterning of soil resources through biologically-mediated processes such as the removal of plant biomass and deposition of dung. In dense shrublands, grazing is thought to reinforce the concentration of resources around shrubs (fertile island effect) by enhancing the movement of resources from the interspace to the shrub hummocks. Shrub removal practices such as ploughing, which is commonly used to manage dense shrub patches, has unknown impacts on the distribution of soil properties. In this study we examined the effects of two land management practices, grazing and ploughing, on the spatial distribution of surface soil resources. At the unploughed–ungrazed site, the connectivity (autocorrelation range) of shrub cover was about 3.9m and there was a well-defined pattern in soil labile C that was related to the distribution of the cover of both shrubs and litter. We also observed a strong pattern of biological crust cover and an autocorrelation range of 2.5m, similar to that of mineralisable and mineral N. At the unploughed–grazed site, the autocorrelation range of both shrub and crust cover was reduced to 1.9m and 1.8m, respectively, although the range of litter cover increased to 4.4m. Under a treatment of grazing without ploughing, the autocorrelation range of soil labile C was less related to litter cover. Whilst ploughing slightly increased the autocorrelation range of both shrub and litter cover at sites that were grazed, it obliterated any spatial pattern in biological soil crusts. We attribute changes in the spatial patterns of soil N under grazing to inputs of animal dung rather than soil crust cover. Our results indicate that grazing alone, or in combination with ploughing, leads to reduced connectivity of shrub and crust cover, reduction in crust patterning, and marked effects on shrub–litter–nutrient spatial relationships. The results reinforce the notion that management of shrublands by grazing and ploughing is likely to have marked effects on the distribution of surface soils.