• Soil Morphologic Properties and Cattle Stocking Rate Affect Dynamic Soil Properties

      Schmalz, Heidi J.; Taylor, Robert V.; Johnson, Tracey N.; Kennedy, Patricia L.; DeBano, Sandra J.; Newingham, Beth A.; McDaniel, Paul A. (Society for Range Management, 2013-07-01)
      Soil properties that influence the capacity for infiltration and moisture retention are important determinants of rangeland productivity. Monitoring effects of grazing on dynamic soil properties can assist managers with stocking rate decisions, particularly if monitoring takes into account environmental variability associated with inherent soil morphological properties. On a Pacific Northwest Bunchgrass Prairie in northeast Oregon, we applied three cattle stocking rates (0.52, 1.04, and 1.56 animal unit months . ha^-1) and an ungrazed control in a randomized complete block design for two 42-d grazing seasons and measured the change in four dynamic soil properties: soil penetration resistance, soil aggregate stability, bare ground, and herbaceous litter cover. To address apparent environmental heterogeneity within experimental units, we also utilized a categorical soil factor (termed Edaphic Habitat Types or EHT), determined by characterizing soil depth, texture, and rock fragment content at sample sites. Stocking rate did not affect extent of bare ground or soil aggregate stability. Stocking rate had a significant effect on penetration resistance, which was greatest at the high stocking rate (1.6 J . cm^-1 +/- 0.1 SE) and lowest in the control (1.1 J . cm^-1 +/- 0.1 SE). For litter cover, the effects of stocking rate and EHT interacted. In two rocky EHTs, litter cover was highest in the controls (60% +/- 6 SE; 50% +/- 3 SE) and ranged from 27% +/- 3 SE to 33% +/- 6 SE in the stocking ratetreatments. Measures of penetration resistance, aggregate stability, and bare ground were different across EHTs regardless of stocking rate, but did not interact with stocking rate. Our study demonstrates that response of dynamic soil properties to stocking rates should be considered as a useful and accessible approach for monitoring effects of livestock management decisions on rangeland conditions.