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Effects of sheep grazing episodes on sediment and nutrient loss in overland flow

A. H. Elliott and W. T. Carlson

Australian Journal of Soil Research 42(2) 213 - 220
Published: 07 April 2004


The effect of sheep grazing on the loss of sediment and nutrients in overland flow was investigated on a hill-country farm in the Waikato, New Zealand. The losses were measured in runoff produced artificially with small (0.5 m2) and large (1050 m2) rainfall simulators. Immediately after intensive winter grazing, rainfall applied at high intensity increased concentrations by a factor of 13–16 for sediment and particulate nutrients, 33–76 for dissolved reactive phosphorus and ammonium-nitrogen, and 5–7 for dissolved organic nitrogen and phosphorus. During summer, when there was less removal of vegetative cover, there was a smaller effect of grazing. The concentrations of sediment and particulate nutrients in overland flow were strongly correlated with the percentage of bare ground. The concentrations returned to background levels within 6 weeks after grazing, and the infiltration rate and ground cover also recovered from grazing in this time. The small rainfall simulator experiments showed that the infiltration rate decreases with grazing, which results in greater runoff after grazing. The greater runoff combines with the increased concentrations to give higher loads after grazing. In late winter, the infiltration rates were approximately half the summer values and the soil erodibility was approximately double, so the risk of high sediment and nutrient loads is greatest in winter, especially considering the higher rainfall and lower grass growth. The management implications are that exposure of bare ground associated with intensive grazing should be avoided, especially in winter.

Keywords: erodibility, infiltration, rainfall simulator, treading, hillslope.

© CSIRO 2004

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