Soil Properties and Plant Community Changes along a Goat Grazing Intensity Gradient in an Open Canopy Oak Forest
AbstractUnderstanding how the management practices of silvopastoral systems affect the long-term sustainability of oak ecosystems and what their influence is on nutrient cycling and plant community, is of great interest. The aim of this study was to examine the effects of relative grazing intensity on soil properties and on vegetation characteristics in an open canopy oak forest dominated by Quercus frainetto. The research was conducted in the area of Pentalofos, which is located in Evros region, north-eastern Greece and is grazed by goats. The distance from a goat corral was used to represent relative grazing intensity. In June 2011, soil and vegetation samples were collected along transects placed at 50, 150, 300, 600 and 1200 m from the goat corral, running perpendicular to three replicates. Soil measurements included pH, phosphorous (P) and nitrogen (N) concentrations while vegetation measurements included plant cover, species composition and diversity. Plant cover was not significantly different among grazing intensities. Species diversity, especially of the woody vegetation layer, was significantly higher in the light grazing intensity in comparison to both the heavy and the very light grazing. Heavy grazing reduced soil organic matter while it increased total nitrogen. Grazing intensity did not affect available P and soil pH. Light to moderate goat grazing could ameliorate floristic diversity and increase sustainability of oak forests in the Mediterranean region.
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