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Tradeoffs between pasture production and plant diversity and soil health attributes of pasture systems of central [sic] Queensland, Australia

The clearing land of trees and introduction of exotic pastures to enhance pasture production and associated monetary gains has been a common practise in Queensland. Previous studies on tree clearing emphasised the gains in pasture production, but over periods of less than 10–15 years after clearing, thus potentially misleading land managers who plan to continue grazing beyond that time. The present research follows an integrated approach to quantify the pasture yield and the effects of tree clearing on pasture species composition, soil properties (organic carbon, available N (NO3-), pHw and microbial biomass (C and N)), and litter production over time-since-clearing on a grazing property in Central Queensland, and to evaluate the implications of our findings for the region. The cleared pasture systems were taken at <5, 11–13 and >33 year age of clearing in comparison to their paired uncleared pastures for three major tree communities representative of the region: Eucalyptus populnea, Eucalyptus melanophloia and Acacia harpophylla. The paper evaluates the effects of clearing on individual attributes as well as an integrated effect of these attributes, i.e. overall ecological services. Pasture production generally increased with clearing but plant diversity, litter production and potential return of N and P through litter decreased. Among soil attributes, clearing of trees adversely impacted upon soil pH and microbial biomass, which play an important role in nutrient availability and mineralisation. This, the initial gains in pasture production are not sustainable over time. The multivariate analysis for such ecological attributes suggests that at the >33 year age of clearing, the ecological state of pasture systems changed compared to that at 5 year or 11–13 year or to the uncleared system. A disturbed pasture system will most likely take longer to revert to the original state compared to the time that would have taken to harvest the benefits. The results are important for landholders and policy makers to comprehend the real gains and losses following tree clearing for pasture development over the long term.

Funding

Category 1 - Australian Competitive Grants (this includes ARC, NHMRC)

History

Volume

111

Issue

1-4

Start Page

93

End Page

103

Number of Pages

11

ISSN

0167-8809

Location

Netherlands

Publisher

Elsevier

Language

en-aus

Peer Reviewed

Yes

Open Access

No

External Author Affiliations

Centre for Environmental Management; Faculty of Business and Informatics; Primary Industries Research Centre;

Era Eligible

Yes

Journal

Agriculture, ecosystems & environment.