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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 35(1)

Impacts of level of utilisation by grazing on an Astrebla (Mitchell grass) grassland in north-western Queensland between 1984 and 2010. 2. Plant species richness and abundance

D. M. Orr A C and D. G. Phelps B

A Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, PO Box 6014, Red Hill, Rockhampton, Qld 4701, Australia.
B Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, PO Box 519, Longreach, Qld 4730, Australia.
C Corresponding author. Email: david.orr@daff.qld.gov.au

The Rangeland Journal 35(1) 17-28 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/RJ11069
Submitted: 17 October 2011  Accepted: 24 January 2013   Published: 8 March 2013

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The occurrence of interstitial species in Astrebla grasslands in Australia are influenced by grazing and seasonal rainfall but the interactions of these two influences are complex. This paper describes three studies aimed at determining and explaining the changes in plant species richness and abundance of the interstitial species in a long-term sheep utilisation experiment in an Astrebla grassland in northern Queensland. In the first study, increasing utilisation increased the frequency of Dactyloctenium radulans (Button grass) and Brachyachne convergens (Downs couch) and reduced that of Streptoglossa adscendens (Mint bush). In the second study, seasonal rainfall variation between 1984 and 2009 resulted in large annual differences in the size of the seed banks of many species, but increasing utilisation consistently reduced the seed bank of species such as Astrebla spp. and S. adscendens and increased that of species such as B. convergens, D. radulans, Amaranthus mitchellii (Boggabri) and Boerhavia sp. (Tar vine). In the third study, the highest species richness occurred at the lightest utilisation because of the presence of a range of palatable forbs, especially legumes. Species richness was reduced as utilisation increased. Species richness in the grazing exclosure was low and similar to that at the heaviest utilisation where there was a reduction in the presence of palatable forb species. The pattern of highest species richness at the lightest grazing treatment was maintained across three sampling times, even with different amounts of seasonal rainfall, but there was a large yearly variation in both the density and frequency of many species. It was concluded that the maintenance of highest species richness at the lightest utilisation was not aligned with other data from this grazing experiment which indicated that the maximum sustainable wool production occurred at moderate utilisation.

Additional keywords: seasonal variation, soil seed banks, species frequency, utilisation.


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