The University of Arizona

Grazing intensity effects on litter decomposition and soil nitrogen mineralization.

A.R. Shariff, M.E. Biondini, C.E. Grygiel


A 2 year study in south central North Dakota determined the responses of (1) litter and root decomposition and nitrogen (N) release, and (2) soil N mineralization to grazing intensity. The treatments were: long term not grazed, moderate grazing, and heavy grazing. The moderate grazing and the heavy grazing treatments removed 45% and 77% of annual above-ground growth respectively. The moderate grazing treatment resulted in higher decomposition and soil N mineralization rates, and lower N releases via decomposition than the long term not grazed and heavy grazing treatments. No consistent differences were found between the long term not grazed and heavy grazing treatments. Annual litter and root decomposition rates in the moderate grazing treatment averaged 55% for 1989-1990 and 63% for 1990-1991 while the long term not grazed and heavy grazing treatments had rates for the same periods of 13% and 19%. The moderate grazing treatment had a net soil N mineralization of 60 micrograms.g-1 and 269 micrograms.g-1 during the 1989 and 1990 growing seasons whereas the long term not grazed and heavy grazing treatments had net soil immobilization for the same periods of -59 micrograms.g-1 and -115 micrograms.g-1. Annual N release from litter and root decomposition in the heavy grazing and long term not grazed treatments averaged 70% and 38% respectively during the 1989-1990 incubation period, and 51 % and 23% during 1990-1991. The equivalent values for the moderate grazing treatment were 47% and -6% (net N immobilization) for 1989-1990 and 41% and 23% for 1990-1991. Results from this study seem to indicate that the standard grazing rule of "take half leave half" may have a significant impact in N conservation and the supply of mineral N for plant growth.


nitrogen retention;degradation;rangeland soils;biogeochemical cycles;grazing experiments;grazing intensity;plant litter;rangelands;grasses;North Dakota

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