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

Grazing pressure impacts on two Aristida/Bothriochloa native pasture communities of central Queensland

Trevor J. Hall A E , Paul Jones B , Richard G. Silcock C and Piet G. Filet D
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF), Toowoomba, Qld 4350, Australia.

B DAF, Emerald, Qld 4720, Australia.

C Formerly DAF, Brisbane, Qld 4102, Australia.

D Formerly Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Emerald, Qld 4720, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email: trevor.hall@daf.qld.gov.au

The Rangeland Journal 39(3) 227-243 https://doi.org/10.1071/RJ16126
Submitted: 19 December 2016  Accepted: 13 May 2017   Published: 9 June 2017

Abstract

Managing native pastures for sustainable and economic production requires a good understanding of grazing effects on pasture dynamics. The Aristida/Bothriochloa pastures of north-eastern Australia are important for cattle production but little data on grazing pressure impacts on pastures are available to guide management decisions of producers, for land management education programs, or for predictive modelling. To address this deficiency, four different continuous grazing intensities were imposed on woodland communities over 7 or 8 years at two sites: a Eucalyptus populnea (poplar box) and a E. melanophloia (silver-leaved ironbark) community. Both sites had replicated paddocks grazed at a low, medium or high grazing pressure by +/- tree killing using herbicide (12 paddocks), and 12 ungrazed (nil grazing pressure) 1-ha plots subjected to the same tree-killing contrasts. Grazed paddock areas were fixed and varied between 3.5 and 21.5 ha. Differential grazing pressures were reset each autumn, by adjusting cattle numbers to consume over the next year the equivalent of 0%, 25%, 50% or 75% of the standing pasture mass available.

Pasture grasses suitable as indicators of grazing pressure were identified for both communities. Under low grazing pressure, Themeda triandra (kangaroo grass) was the only desirable grass to show a significant increase in total contribution over time at both sites, although Dichanthium sericeum (Queensland bluegrass) also increased its contribution at the poplar box site. Chloris species increased their contribution as grazing pressure increased. The proportion of less palatable Aristida spp. (wiregrasses) in the pasture was not affected by high grazing pressure, although they increased at low grazing pressure in the poplar box community. There were no consistent changes in native legumes or weedy forb species to any treatment. Increasing grazing pressure had a greater negative effect on pasture mass, ground cover and pasture crown cover area than on changing species composition. Most changes in composition due to grazing pressure were smaller than those associated with variable seasonal rainfall, and were greater in the poplar box community. In above-average rainfall years grazing up to 50% of autumn standing pasture mass had no detrimental effect on composition in treeless poplar box country in the short term. The pastures remained stable or improved in both communities when grazing pressure was set annually to utilise 25% of the standing autumn forage.

Additional keywords: 3P grass, crown basal area, Dichanthium sericeum, eucalypt woodlands, pasture composition, Themeda triandra, utilisation rate.


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