Regular Article

Plant and Soil

, Volume 360, Issue 1, pp 405-419

First online:

Landform and vegetation patch type moderate the effects of grazing-induced disturbance on carbon and nitrogen pools in a semi-arid woodland

  • Jane G. SmithAffiliated withBiology Department, New Mexico State University Email author 
  • , David J. EldridgeAffiliated withEvolution and Ecology Research Centre, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales
  • , Heather L. ThroopAffiliated withBiology Department, New Mexico State University

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Background and aims

Dryland soil organic carbon (C) pools account for a large portion of soil C globally, but their response to livestock grazing has been difficult to generalize. We hypothesized that some difficulty generalizing was due to spatial heterogeneity in dryland systems. We examined the importance of heterogeneity at vegetation and landform scales on the response of litter and soil C and nitrogen (N) to grazing.


Litter and soil C and N pools were quantified in different vegetation microsites (tree, shrub, open) and landform elements (dune, swale) across a grazing disturbance gradient in an eastern Australia semi-arid woodland.


Vegetation, landform, and grazing disturbance affected litter and soil C and N pools singly and through interactions. Resource pools were distributed unevenly across vegetation and landforms, and were largest beneath trees in swales. Grazing reduced pools in vegetation-landform combinations where pools were greatest. Pool increases from high to moderate disturbance sites were minimal.


Litter and soil C and N pools are strongly affected by livestock grazing, although responses to grazing relaxation may be non-linear. Accurately predicting C and N responses to grazing in drylands will require accounting for patch differences at multiple spatial scales.


Litter Nutrient pools Patch heterogeneity Soil organic carbon Spatial scale