Plant and Soil

, Volume 360, Issue 1–2, pp 405–419 | Cite as

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

  • Jane G. SmithEmail author
  • David J. Eldridge
  • Heather L. Throop
Regular Article


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 



Soil organic carbon






SOC concentration


Soil nitrogen concentration


SOC mass per area in g m−2


Soil N mass per area in g m−2


Litter mass per area in g m−2



This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (DEB 0953864 to HT and DEB 0680412 to the Jornada Basin LTER). We appreciate laboratory assistance from E. Morrison and R. Pardee. This study was made possible by funding and logistic support of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC), who own and manage Australia’s largest mainland feral-free area at Scotia Sanctuary. We thank the University of Ballarat and the surrounding landholders for allowing us to work on their land. We thank M. Hayward (AWC) for comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jane G. Smith
    • 1
    Email author
  • David J. Eldridge
    • 2
  • Heather L. Throop
    • 1
  1. 1.Biology DepartmentNew Mexico State UniversityLas CrucesUSA
  2. 2.Evolution and Ecology Research Centre, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

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