Plant compensation to grazing and soil carbon dynamics in a tropical grassland

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Abstract

The effects of grazing on soil organic carbon (SOC) dynamics, particularly in the tropics, are still poorly understood. Plant compensation to grazing, whereby plants maintain leaf area (C input capacity) despite consumption (C removal) by grazers, has been demonstrated in tropical grasslands but its influence on SOC is largely unexplored. Here, the effect of grazing on plant leaf area index (LAI) was measured in a field experiment in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. LAI changed little for grazing intensities up to 70%. The response curve of LAI versus grazing intensity was used in a mass balance model, called SNAP, of SOC dynamics based on previous data from the Serengeti. The model predicted SOC to increase at intermediate grazing intensity, but then to decline rapidly at the highest grazing intensities. The SNAP model predictions were compared with observed SOC stocks in the 24 grazed plots of a 10-year grazing exclosure experiment at eight sites across the park that varied in mean annual rainfall, soil texture, grazing intensity and plant lignin and cellulose. The model predicted current SOC stocks very well (R2 > 0:75), and suggests that compensatory plant responses to grazing are an important means of how herbivores might maintain or increase SOC in tropical grasslands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number233
JournalPeerJ
Volume2013
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2014

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Keywords

  • Compensation
  • Grasslands
  • Grazing
  • Herbivory
  • Leaf area
  • Modeling
  • Plants
  • Serengeti
  • Soil carbon
  • Tropical

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)

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