The University of Arizona

Restoring degraded riparian meadows: biomass and species responses.

D.W. Martin, J.C. Chambers


Riparian meadows in central Nevada are highly productive and have been extensively utilized for livestock grazing. Consequently, many have been severely degraded resulting in changes in species composition and decreases in productivity. During a 3 year study, we examined the responses of mesic meadow systems to yearly nitrogen addition (100 kg ha(-1)) and clipping (8-10 cm stubble height) to increase our understanding of grazing effects. We also examined the effects of a one-time, fall aeration (10 cm deep by 2 cm wide holes spaced 20 cm apart) and revegetation (removal of existing vegetation and reseeding) to evaluate the restoration potential of these sites. Changes in total biomass, species aerial cover and frequency, and surface basal cover were used to evaluate treatment responses. Clipping had no effect on total biomass, possibly because it was conducted late in the growing season. In contrast, nitrogen addition plus clipping increased biomass in all 3 years when treatments were compared across sites and for 1 out of 3 years when treatments were compared across a single site. Aeration had no effect on above ground biomass, but has been shown to increase rooting activity in these same meadows. Due to a dry, hot spring, early seral and weedy species had higher establishment than the seeded natives in the revegetation plots, and biomass was low the first year after treatment. Individual species varied in their treatment responses. The cover of low-growing forb species (western aster (Aster occidentalis [Nutt.] Torrey and A. Gray), long-stalk starwort (Stellania Longipes Goldie), and common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale Wigg.) declined through time for all treatments, presumably due to increased grass cover and shading following release from grazing and above average precipitation and water table levels in 1998. Examination of the key graminoids showed that Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis ssp. pratensis L.), an increaser species, did not increase in response to release from grazing, but increased in response to clipping and nitrogen addition. Nebraska sedge (Carex nebrascensis Dewey), a desirable native, increased in response to both release from grazing and nitrogen addition. The results were influenced by high spatial and temporal variability in water table elevations within these systems.



soil air;aeration;sulfur-coated urea;rooting;riparian grasslands;growth period;ground cover;spatial variation;reclamation;species diversity;temporal variation;species differences;cutting;nitrogen;biomass production;plant communities;land restoration;overgrazing;application rate;establishment;biomass;botanical composition;Nevada

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