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

Can changes to pasture management reduce runoff and sediment loss to the Great Barrier Reef? The results of a 10-year study in the Burdekin catchment, Australia

Rebecca Bartley A E , Jeff P. Corfield B , Aaron A. Hawdon C , Anne E. Kinsey-Henderson C , Brett N. Abbott C , Scott N. Wilkinson D and Rex J. Keen C

A CSIRO, Brisbane, Qld 4068, Australia.

B Corfield Consultants, Wulgura, Qld 4811, Australia.

C CSIRO, Townsville, Qld 4814, Australia.

D CSIRO, Acton, ACT 2601, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email: rebecca.bartley@csiro.au

The Rangeland Journal 36(1) 67-84 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/RJ13013
Submitted: 22 February 2013  Accepted: 15 November 2013   Published: 2 January 2014

Abstract

Excess sediments from agricultural areas are having a detrimental impact on the Great Barrier Reef, and threaten the long-term viability of rangeland grazing. Changes to grazing management have been promoted as a mechanism for reducing excess sediment loss from grazed rangelands. This paper summarises the results of a 10-year study (2002–11) on a property in the Burdekin catchment that investigated the role of reduced stocking rates and rotational wet season resting on hill-slope and catchment runoff and sediment yields. Ground cover and pasture biomass were evaluated using on-ground surveys and remote sensing. During this study, average ground cover increased from ~35 to ~80% but pasture biomass was low due to the dominance of Bothriochloa pertusa (77% of composition). The percentage of deep-rooted perennial species increased from ~7% of pasture composition in 2002 to ~15% in 2011. This is still considerably lower than the percentage that occupied this property in 1979 (~78%). The increased ground cover resulted in progressively lower hill-slope runoff coefficients for the first event in each wet season, but annual catchment runoff did not respond significantly to the increasing ground cover during the study. Hill-slope and catchment sediment concentrations did decline with the increased ground cover, yet catchment sediment yields increased proportionally to annual runoff due to the contribution of sub-surface (scald, gully and bank) erosion. This study has demonstrated that changes to grazing management can reduce sediment concentrations leaving B. pertusa-dominated pastures, as B. pertusa is an effective controller of surface erosion. To further reduce the runoff that is fuelling gully and bank erosion, the proportion of deep-rooted native perennial grasses needs to be increased. It is argued that more than 10 years will be required to restore healthy eco-hydrological function to these previously degraded and low productivity rangelands. Even longer timescales will be needed to meet current targets for water quality.

Additional keywords: eco-hydrology, erosion, grazing, Great Barrier Reef, land management, vegetation.


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