Effects of intense, short-duration grazing on microtopography in a Chihuahuan Desert grassland

TitleEffects of intense, short-duration grazing on microtopography in a Chihuahuan Desert grassland
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsNash M.S., Jackson E., Whitford WG
JournalJournal of Arid Environments
Date PublishedFebruary 1, 2004
Accession NumberJRN00408
ARIS Log Number163153
Keywordscattle, grazing, Hoof-action Microtopography index, Microdepressions, Micromounds, wind erosion

We studied the effect of three consecutive years of short duration (<48 h per year), and intense grazing (20'40 yearling cows per hectare) on soil surface microtopography in a Chihuhuan Desert grassland. We also studied the effects of shrub removal plus grazing on microtopography. Microtopography was measured in 18 plots (treatments). Treatments were a combination of two factors: (1) three levels of grazing (winter-grazed, summer-grazed, and not grazed), and (2) two levels of habitat structure (shrubs-removed and shrubs-intact). Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) shrubs were removed from half of the plots (nine out of 18 plots). The average height of the micromounds, the average depths of intermound depressions, and the number of micromounds were significantly reduced on the grazed plots. Shrub removal had no significant effect on the height of the micromounds or the depth of the intermound depressions of ungrazed plots. There were significant differences in average micromound heights and intermound microdepression depths attributable to the season of grazing. Microtopography was significantly reduced on grazed plots from which shrubs were removed, compared to ungrazed plots, and grazed plots with shrubs present. Grass canopy reduction, and destruction of the micromound structure in a short duration, plus intense grazing results in erosion of micromounds and in-filling of intermound depressions. The loss of microtopography coupled with reduction in vegetation height and cover resulting from short-duration intense grazing by cattle exposed soils to an increased risk of soil erosion Destruction of the micromound/microdepression topography by cattle changes the spatial patterns of water infiltration, and may homogenize nutrients in desert grasslands.