Defoliation and patchy nutrient return drive grazing effects on plant and soil properties in a dairy cow pasture

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Mikola , J , Setälä , H , Virkajärvi , P , Saarijärvi , K , Ilmarinen , K , Voigt , W & Vestberg , M 2009 , ' Defoliation and patchy nutrient return drive grazing effects on plant and soil properties in a dairy cow pasture ' , Ecological Monographs , vol. 79 , no. 2 , pp. 221-244 . https://doi.org/10.1890/08-1846.1

Title: Defoliation and patchy nutrient return drive grazing effects on plant and soil properties in a dairy cow pasture
Author: Mikola, Juha; Setälä, Heikki; Virkajärvi, P; Saarijärvi, K; Ilmarinen, K; Voigt, W; Vestberg, M
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Environmental Sciences
University of Helsinki, Environmental Sciences
Date: 2009
Language: eng
Number of pages: 24
Belongs to series: Ecological Monographs
ISSN: 0012-9615
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10138/24202
Abstract: Large herbivores can influence plant and soil properties in grassland ecosystems, but especially for belowground biota and processes, the mechanisms that explain these effects are not fully understood. Here, we examine the capability of three grazing mechanisms-plant defoliation, dung and urine return, and physical presence of animals (causing trampling and excreta return in patches)-to explain grazing effects in Phleum pratense-Festuca pratensis dairy cow pasture in Finland. Comparison of control plots and plots grazed by cows showed that grazing maintained original plant-community structure, decreased shoot mass and root N and P concentrations, increased shoot N and P concentrations, and had an inconsistent effect on root mass. Among soil fauna, grazing increased the abundance of fungivorous nematodes and Aporrectodea earthworms and decreased the abundance of detritivorous enchytraeids and Lumbricus earthworms. Grazing also increased soil density and pH but did not affect average soil inorganic-N concentration. To reveal the mechanisms behind these effects, we analyzed results from mowed plots and plots that were both mowed and treated with a dung and urine mixture. This comparison revealed that grazing effects on plant attributes were almost entirely explained by defoliation, with only one partly explained by excreta return. Among belowground attributes, however, the mechanisms were more mixed, with effects explained by defoliation, patchy excreta return, and cow trampling. Average soil inorganic-N concentration was not affected by grazing because it was simultaneously decreased by defoliation and increased by cow presence. Presence of cows created great spatial heterogeneity in soil N availability and abundance of fungivorous nematodes. A greenhouse trial revealed a grazing-induced soil feedback on plant growth, which was explained by patchiness in N availability rather than changes in soil biota. Our results show that grazing effects on plant attributes can be satisfactorily predicted using the effects of defoliation, whereas those on soil fauna and soil N availability need understanding of other mechanisms as well. The results indicate that defoliation-induced changes in plant ecophysiology and the great spatial variation in N availability created by grazers are the two key mechanisms through which large herbivores can control grassland ecosystems.
Subject: 118 Biological sciences
219 Environmental biotechnology
117 Geography, Environmental sciences
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