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Quad bike impacts on vegetation and soil physicochemical properties in an arid ecosystem

Navas Romero, Ana L., Herrera Moratta, Mario A., Dalmasso, Antonio D., Barros, Agustina
Acta oecologica 2019 v.97 pp. 14-22
Salsola tragus, all-terrain vehicles, ecosystems, electrical conductivity, grasses, indigenous species, invasive species, landscapes, man-made trails, perennials, phytosociology, porosity, shrubs, soil compaction, soil pH, soil physical properties, soil sampling, texture, traffic, vegetation cover
The increase use of Off-Road Vehicles (ORVs) coupled with the absence of control strategies have led to extensive use of natural areas for the creation of recreational trails. We assessed the effects of quad bikes on vegetation and soils in an arid ecosystem subjected to intensive quad bike use. We selected randomly eight traffic sites (disturbed sites) and eight adjacent control sites (undisturbed sites). Plant cover and composition were assessed with the point-intercept method and phytosociological census. In each site, we collected soil samples to assess soil physicochemical properties, including apparent specific weight (ASG), actual specific weight (RSG), porosity, texture, electric conductivity (EC) and pH. Soil compaction was measured at 30 spaces points per site. Plant cover and richness was significant lower in disturbed sites, with only four species present in areas subjected to disturbance. There were also changes in species dominance, with native perennial shrubs and grasses characterizing the undisturbed sites while the disturbed sites were mainly dominated by the invasive exotic herb Salsola kali. ORVs traffic also affected soil physicochemical properties including soil compaction, ASG, EC and soil pH. Soil compaction was more than double in disturbed sites and ASG tended to be higher under this condition. The EC was significantly higher and soil pH was significantly lower in the disturbed sites. Reduced vegetation cover and changes to soils physicochemical properties on quadbike trails highlights the impacts of ORVs in the landscape and the need to develop management strategies to minimize disturbance from ORVs on vegetation and soils.