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The influence of individual native trees and grazing regime on soil properties and groundcover patterns in a temperate landscape of New South Wales, Australia

Barnes, Phoebe, Wilson, Brian R., Nadolny, Chris, Growns, Ivor
Rangeland journal 2009 v.31 no.4 pp. 405-415
temperate soils, grassland soils, pastures, farms, trees, canopy, understory, Eucalyptus melliodora, vegetation structure, soil chemical properties, grazing, grasses, pasture plants, C3 plants, C4 plants, ground cover plants, soil pH, nitrogen, phosphorus, carbon, soil chemistry, species diversity, New South Wales
Scattered native trees are a significant ecological resource across the agricultural landscape, yet their numbers are declining due to factors such as dieback, senescence and agricultural activity. This study examined the interactions among Eucalyptus melliodora (Cunn. ex Schauer) trees, vegetation composition and selected surface soil chemical properties in grazed and ungrazed paddocks on the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia. Four farms on granite soils were examined in grazed and ungrazed treatments. Vegetation composition was assessed, and soil samples were collected in plots beneath the canopy and in adjacent open areas in both north and south directions of the tree canopy. Native grasses dominated the vegetation in both beneath the canopy and open areas, at both grazed and ungrazed sites. However, their composition varied between farms. Several C₃ and C₄ grasses contributed to the groundcover of the canopy and open sites, but C₃ grasses were generally more common under the canopy. Significant differences occurred in soil C, N, P and pH, and vegetation composition between canopy and open areas, and between grazed and ungrazed treatments. Soil P, C and N contents in grazed sites were typically similar to or higher than those in ungrazed sites, and soils were less acid in the ungrazed compared with grazed sites. All soil parameters measured were significantly higher under tree canopies, except P. The tree, soil and vegetation factors were strongly related. This study confirms that individual scattered trees create a distinct mosaic of localised soil improvement, and influence vegetation composition so that paddocks with trees are floristically more diverse than paddocks without trees. The results illustrate the potential benefits of retaining trees for both biodiversity values and livestock production in Australia.