The Rangeland Journal The Rangeland Journal Society
Rangeland ecology and management
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Sensitivity of soil organic carbon to grazing management in the semi-arid rangelands of south-eastern Australia

S. E. Orgill A C , C. M. Waters B , G. Melville B , I. Toole B , Y. Alemseged B and W. Smith B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, Pine Gully Road, Wagga Wagga, NSW 2650, Australia.

B New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, Pastures and Rangelands, PMB 19, Trangie, NSW 2823, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email: susan.orgill@dpi.nsw.gov.au

The Rangeland Journal 39(2) 153-167 https://doi.org/10.1071/RJ16020
Submitted: 11 March 2016  Accepted: 19 December 2016   Published: 21 February 2017

Abstract

This study compared the effects of grazing management on soil organic carbon (OC) stocks in the semi-arid rangelands of New South Wales, Australia. A field survey was conducted at three locations (Brewarrina, Cobar–North and Cobar–South), with paired sites of long-term (>8 years) rotational grazing management and continuously grazed pastures (either set stocked or no stocking). At each location, soil OC, carbon (C) fractions, soil nitrogen (N) and microsite and site factors (including ground cover and woody vegetation) were measured. The control of total grazing pressure (TGP) through rotational grazing and exclusion fencing did not increase soil C stocks compared with continuous grazing for the majority of comparisons. However, in some parts of the landscape, higher soil C stock was found with TGP control, for example on the ridges (21.6 vs 13.3 t C ha–1 to 0.3 m). C stocks increased with litter and perennial ground cover and with close proximity to trees. At Brewarrina, C stocks were positively affected by perennial plant cover (P < 0.001) and litter (P < 0.05), whereas at Cobar–North and Cobar–South C stocks were positively affected by the presence of trees (P < 0.001), with higher C stocks in close proximity to trees, and with increasing litter cover (P < 0.01). The present study demonstrates that natural resource benefits, such as increased perennial cover, can be achieved through controlling TGP in the rangelands but increases in soil C may be limited in certain parts of the landscape. These findings also highlight that interactions between managed and unmanaged TGP and microsite factors, such as ground cover and proximity to woody vegetation, need to be considered when evaluating the role of changed grazing management on soil C.

Additional keywords: carbon sequestration, ground cover, nitrogen, particulate organic carbon, total grazing pressure.


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