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

Temporary cropping in semi-arid shrublands increases native perennial grasses

Y. Alemseged A B , R. B. Hacker A , W. J. Smith A and G. J. Melville A

A Industry & Investment NSW, Trangie Agricultural Research Centre, PMB 19, Trangie, NSW 2823, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email: yohannes.alemseged@industry.nsw.gov.au

The Rangeland Journal 33(1) 67-78 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/RJ10022
Submitted: 29 April 2010  Accepted: 9 February 2011   Published: 23 March 2011

Abstract

Thickening of native shrubs is a major problem in many ‘semi-arid woodlands’ as significant increase in shrub density is often negatively correlated with herbaceous vegetation and leads to reduced pasture production and soil erosion. This project aimed to test the hypothesis that temporary cropping (up to three crops in 15 years) consistently increases the density of native perennial grasses following the removal of shrubs. A total of 30 paddocks that had been cropped during the last 20 years were randomly selected using a satellite-based database that documented annual clearing and cropping history from 1987 to 2003. Paddocks were classified into four types based on clearing and cropping history and grazing management – not cleared (shrubs), regrowth (re-invaded by shrubs), set stocked (cropped and grazed), light/rotationally grazed (cropped and grazed). The responses of vegetation and soil (chemical and physical) properties to clearing and cropping were evaluated. Results indicated that ground cover, native perennial grass cover and standing dry matter were highest under light/rotationally grazed conditions.

The shrub state represents a stable state within the Cobar pediplain brought about due to land-use change in the form of overgrazing and/or the removal of fire from the system. An alternative stable state was achieved as a result of disturbance in the form of clearing, cropping and grazing management thereby directly altering the shrub population. The resilience of this state is largely dependent on the grazing management system used and on the prevention of shrub from re-establishing while failure to control shrubs could lead to the re-emergence of the Shrub State. We conclude that native grasslands do regenerate following cropping after removal of shrubs. The importance of grazing management for restoring perennial ground cover following removal of shrubs and temporary cropping has been clearly demonstrated by the study.

Additional keywords: clearing, ground cover, pasture composition, seed bank, state and transition.


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