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Slope position regulates response of carbon and nitrogen stocks to cattle grazing on rough fescue grassland

Zhang, B., Thomas, B.W., Beck, R., Willms, W.D., Zhao, M., Hao, X. (2018). Slope position regulates response of carbon and nitrogen stocks to cattle grazing on rough fescue grassland, 18(11), 3228-3234. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11368-018-1992-5

Abstract

© 2018, The Author(s). Purpose: Grasslands play a crucial role in offsetting greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change. A moderate change in grassland carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) stocks may substantially alter the global C and N cycle and thereby influence climate. But how grassland C and N stocks respond to grazing and slope position remains uncertain. This research investigates how C and N stocks respond to cattle grazing along a landscape slope. Materials and methods: We studied a grassland that has been grazed by cattle at four cattle stocking rates (0, 1.2, 2.4, and 4.8 animal unit months (AUM) ha−1) since 1949, representing control (CK), light (L), heavy (H), and very heavy (VH) grazing intensities, respectively. Samples were taken from the top and bottom slope positions within each paddock (only the top position in CK); C and N stocks in soil, roots, litter, and standing crop were estimated. Soil C and N stocks were estimated based on equivalent mass (1500 Mg ha−1). Root C and N stocks were estimated to the depth of 15 cm. Results and discussion: All parameters, except for litter N stock and standing crop C stock, significantly responded to the interaction of grazing intensity and slope position. In the bottom position, soil and standing crop C and N stocks as well as litter C stock were higher with the L treatment than with VH, while no significant differences were found among the three grazed treatments for root C and litter N stocks. In the top position, soil and root C and N stocks were higher with the VH treatment than with L, whereas litter C and N stocks and standing crop C stock were lower with VH than with L. Conclusions: Our results provide evidence that slope position plays an important role in regulating the response of C and N stocks to grazing and may need to be considered when developing optimal grazing management strategies.

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