Hysteretic responses to grazing in a semiarid rangeland

Searle, Kate R., Gordon, Iain J., and Stokes, Chris J. (2009) Hysteretic responses to grazing in a semiarid rangeland. Rangeland Ecology & Management, 62 (2). pp. 136-144.

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Ecological systems comprise a complex array of interacting processes that manifest across multiple scales. Effective management of natural ecosystems has to be underpinned by an understanding of how the scaling of these processes influences system integrity and stability. This is particularly true in semiarid rangelands, which display strong relationships between pattern and process that are fundamental to maintaining ecosystem function. Grazing call disrupt the scaling of these relationships and the mechanistic coupling between pattern and process, undermining the health of grazed semiarid rangelands. This is due to possible hysteretic responses in key system components to increases and decreases in grazing disturbance. We used data from a semiarid rangeland in northern Australia to test for hysteretic responses in system components after the removal of cattle grazing. We found an uncoupling of spatial linkages between vegetation and soil moisture in a severely degraded plot that was not evident in less intensively grazed or recovering plots. Recovering plots protected from grazing for 20 yr showed a scale of spatial linkage between vegetation and soil moisture, and soil organic matter and mineralization flush, of a scale much coarser than that of degrading plots. These findings provide evidence for hysteretic recovery from grazing and demonstrate that comparison of the spatial patterns of vegetation and soil properties is essential for capturing the true state of ecological functionality in this system. This has important implications for assessing ecological function in systems typified by strong natural environmental variation or in which data for pristine conditions are lacking.

Item ID: 42546
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1551-5028
Keywords: cattle grazing, hysteresis, rangeland management, semiarid rangelands, spatial coupling
Date Deposited: 10 Feb 2016 07:43
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0501 Ecological Applications > 050104 Landscape Ecology @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960510 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Sparseland, Permanent Grassland and Arid Zone Environments @ 100%
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