Effect of woody vegetation clearing on nutrient and carbon relations of semi-arid dystrophic savanna
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- Schmidt, S., Lamble, R.E., Fensham, R.J. et al. Plant Soil (2010) 331: 79. doi:10.1007/s11104-009-0233-5
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Throughout the savanna biome, woody vegetation is cleared to increase productivity of herbaceous pasture. While clearing can result in increased pasture production of semi-arid dystrophic savannas in the short term, it is uncertain whether production is sustained in the long term. There is insufficient knowledge of how clearing affects soil nutrient and organic carbon (SOC) stocks. Using cleared-uncleared site pairs, we evaluated techniques for time-integrated assessment of nutrient and carbon relations in Australian savanna. Short-term in situ resin incubation showed that soil at cleared sites had a higher time-integrated availability of ammonium and nitrate, indicating that nitrogen (N) may turn over faster and/or is taken up slower at cleared sites than uncleared savanna. Nitrate and ammonium availability was approximately 2-fold higher in spring than in summer, likely due to greater uptake and/or loss of nitrate during summer rains. Nitrate was a prominent N source for evergreen trees, especially before summer rain, pointing to a role of trees as permanent N sinks. Stable isotope signatures of soil and vegetation indicate that N input occurs via N2 fixing microbiotic crusts and Acacia species. 30 years after clearing, SOC contained more C4 grass-derived carbon than uncleared savanna, but this shift in C source was not associated with the net C gain often observed in grasslands. Interactions between altered nutrient and C relations and composition of the understorey should be assessed in context of introduced buffelgrass (Cenchrus ciliaris) which had higher macronutrient concentrations than native grasses. Heterogeneity of the studied soils highlights the need for replication at several spatial scales to infer long-term dynamics with space-for-time chronosequences. We conclude that the techniques presented here are useful for gaining knowledge of the biogeochemical processes governing savannas and the systems that result from clearing.