Soil distrubance by native animals along grazing gradients in an arid grassland

TitleSoil distrubance by native animals along grazing gradients in an arid grassland
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsEldridge D.J., Whitford WG
JournalJournal of Arid Environments
Start Page1144
Date Published08/2009
ARIS Log Number247413

Domestic grazing animals that congregate around watering points in arid rangelands create clearly defined trampling-induced grazing gradients. Grazing and trampling alter soil and vegetation condition, often leading to substantial reductions in ecological function. We measured foraging pits and mounds created by native soil foraging animals over 12 months at three watering points in a Chihuahuan Desert grassland, and hypothesized that the density and cover of their disturbances would increase with increasing distance from water. We recorded an average of 3756 disturbances ha_1 and cover of 34.18 m2 ha_1 across the grazing gradients, which comprised mainly pits (43%) and mounds (25%) of heteromyid rodents, ants and spiders. Soil turnover was estimated at 1.43 m3 ha_1. We detected no differences in density, cover, soil volume or composition of disturbances in relation to distance from water, but there were significant, though ill-defined, differences across the five sampling periods, with generally more activity in the warm–wet months. Small animal-created mounds and pits are important sources of soil and sinks for litter within grazing gradients, and may represent the only sites where plants can establish given a relaxation in grazing pressure.