Plant and Soil

, Volume 191, Issue 2, pp 147–156

Does grazing mediate soil carbon and nitrogen accumulation beneath C4, perennial grasses along an environmental gradient?

  • J.D. Derner
  • D.D. Briske
  • T.W. Boutton


An experiment was conducted to evaluate the influence of long-term (>25 yrs) grazing on soil organic carbon (SOC) and total soil nitrogen (N) accumulation beneath individual plants of three perennial grasses along an environmental gradient in the North American Great Plains. The zone of maximum SOC and N accumulation was restricted vertically to the upper soil depth (0-5 cm) and horizontally within the basal area occupied by individual caespitose grasses, which contributed to fine-scale patterning of soil heterogeneity. Long-term grazing mediated SOC and N accumulation in the tall-, mid- and shortgrass communities, but the responses were community specific. SOC and N were lower beneath Schizachyrium scoparium plants in long-term grazed sites of the tall- and midgrass communities, but higher beneath Bouteloua gracilis plants in the long-term grazed site of the shortgrass community. SOC, but not N, was greater in soils beneath compared to between S. scoparium plants in an abandoned field seeded in 1941, indicating that this caespitose grass accumulated SOC more rapidly than N. SOC and N were greater in the 0-5 cm soil depth beneath a caespitose grass (S. scoparium) compared to a rhizomatous grass (Panicum virgatum) in the tallgrass community, with no significant accumulation of either SOC or N beneath P. virgatum plants. Grazing appears to indirectly mediate nutrient accumulation beneath caespitose grasses along the environmental gradient by modifying the size class distribution of plants. Populations with a greater proportion of large plants have a greater potential for biomass incorporation into soils and may more effectively capture redistributed organic matter from between plant locations. Contrasting plant responses to grazing at various locations along the environmental gradient conform to the predictions of the generalized grazing model, as the selection pressures of grazing and aridity may have also influenced the ability of caespitose grasses to accumulate nutrients in soils beneath them by mediating grazing resistance, competitive ability and population structure.

environmental gradient grazing nutrient accumulation plant-animal interactions soil heterogeneity 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • J.D. Derner
    • 1
  • D.D. Briske
    • 1
  • T.W. Boutton
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Rangeland Ecology and ManagementTexas A and M UniversityCollege StationUSA

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