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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 24(1)

Some aspects of tree-grass dynamics in Queensland's grazing lands

J. C. Scanlan

The Rangeland Journal 24(1) 56 - 82
Published: 15 June 2002


This review examines the interactions between grasses and trees that are relevant to Queensland's grazing lands. Soils and climate determine the potential amount of woody vegetation within an area and clearing, fire and grazing management can modify that potential. In general, the presence of non-leguminous trees reduces the potential grass production beneath their canopy and within woodland patches. Some non-native leguminous trees (e.g. Indian siris, Albizia lebbeck) enhance production of grasses beneath their canopies, whereas the widespread native leguminous trees, mulga (Acacia aneura) and brigalow (A. harpophylla) have not been reported to enhance grass production in the same way. At the patch scale, pasture production beneath woodlands with moderate to high tree basal areas is generally less than in open patches under the same soil and climatic conditions. At a landscape level, tree density, rainfall amount and distribution, and soil type modify pasture production within forest/woodland/shrubland systems. Grasses can reduce tree seedling survival but have little impact on mature woody plants, apart from providing fuel to carry a fire.

Modelling studies have been used to examine some aspects of tree-grass production. Firstly, the relationship between grass production and an increasing amount of trees can vary from linear decrease, to exponential decrease to initial stimulation followed by a decrease, depending solely on the relative strengths of stimulatory and competitive effects of trees on grasses. Secondly, simulated pasture production within woodlands shows that the pasture production may be up to 50% higher in paddocks that have high variability in the distribution of those trees compared with areas where trees are uniformly distributed. This is due to the non-linear (negative exponential) relationship between pasture production and tree density that is commonly observed within Queensland. Lastly, simulation studies show that total aboveground production (trees and pasture) of mulga woodland increases as the number of trees per hectare increases.

The pasture production response to tree clearing or tree planting depends on tree species, rainfall, soil type, climatic history and post-clearing management including fire and grazing, and will change with time since clearing. The greatest relative increase in pasture production following the removal of woody vegetation occurs: when the initial tree basal area is highest; where rainfall is evenly distributed though the year and on fertile soils with a low water holding capacity.

Keywords: Tree-grass interactions, productivity, soil effects, rainfall effects, tree clearing, grazing, modelling

Full text doi:10.1071/RJ02003

© ARS 2002

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