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Resilience of a high-conservation-value, semi-arid grassland on fertile clay soils to burning, mowing and ploughing.

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Lewis, T., Reid, N., Clarke, P.J. and Whalley, R.D.B. (2010) Resilience of a high-conservation-value, semi-arid grassland on fertile clay soils to burning, mowing and ploughing. Austral Ecology, 35 (4). pp. 464-481.

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Article Link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-9993.2009.02047.x

Publisher URL: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com


In grassland reserves, managed disturbance is often necessary to maintain plant species diversity. We carried out experiments to determine the impact of fire, kangaroo grazing, mowing and disc ploughing on grassland species richness and composition in a nature reserve in semi-arid eastern Australia. Vegetation response was influenced by winter-spring drought after establishment of the experiments, but moderate rainfall followed in late summer-autumn. Species composition varied greatly between sampling times, and the variability due to rainfall differences between seasons and years was greater than the effects of fire, kangaroo grazing, mowing or disc ploughing. In the fire experiment, species richness and composition recovered more rapidly after spring than autumn burning. Species richness and composition were similar to control sites within 12 months of burning and mowing, suggesting that removal of the dominant grass canopy is unnecessary to enhance plant diversity. Two fires (separated by 3 years) and post-fire kangaroo grazing had only minor influence on species richness and composition. Even disc ploughing caused only a small reduction in native richness. The minor impact of ploughing was explained by the small areas that were ploughed, the once-off nature of the treatment, and the high degree of natural movement and cracking in these shrink-swell soils. Recovery of the composition and richness of these grasslands was rapid because of the high proportion of perennial species that resprout vegetatively after fire and mowing. There appears to be little conservation benefit from fire, mowing or ploughing ungrazed areas, as we could identify no native plant species dependent on frequent disturbance for persistence in this grassland community. However, the ability of the Astrebla- and Dichanthium-dominated grasslands to recover quickly after disturbance, given favourable seasonal conditions, suggests that they are well adapted to natural disturbances (e.g. droughts, fire, flooding and native grazing).

Item Type:Article
Business groups:Horticulture and Forestry Science
Additional Information:© The Authors. © Ecological Society of Australia.
Keywords:Astrebla spp.; bluegrass; Dichanthium sericeum; disturbance; fire; Mitchell grassland; nature reserve; management; plant diversity; arid lands; burning; clay soils; disc ploughs; drought; flooding; grazing; mowing; soil types; species diversity; kangaroos; heavy soils; pasturing; rainfall; Australia.
Subjects:Science > Biology > Ecology
Agriculture > Agriculture (General) > Agriculture and the environment
Science > Botany > Plant ecology
Live Archive:18 Nov 2010 05:47
Last Modified:15 Nov 2022 04:05

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