• Water holding capacity of litter and soil organic matter in mixed prairie and fescue grassland ecosystems of Alberta

      Naeth, M. A.; Bailey, A. W.; Chanasyk, D. S.; Pluth, D. J. (Society for Range Management, 1991-01-01)
      Litter and organic matter accumulations can reduce soil water through interception of precipitation and subsequent evaporation of absorbed water. Interception varies with mass and water holding capacity (WHC) of litter and organic matter, and is highest from small precipitation events. WHC varies with vegetation type, which is affected by grazing regime. Thus long-term grazing could affect WHC of litter and organic matter and would be important in the hydrologic assessment of rangelands subjected to many small precipitation events throughout the growing season. The study was conducted in mixed prairie, parkland fescue, and foothills fescue grasslands in Alberta, Canada. Grazing regimes were of light to very heavy intensities, grazed early, late, and continuously during the growing season. Litter and organic matter were sorted by sieving into various sized categories. Litter-soil cores were also evaluated. WHC of litter and organic matter was lower in mixed prairie than in fescue grasslands. WHC increased with increazed particle size, being higher for roots and standing and fallen litter than for organic matter. WHC of large particle-sized material decreased with heavy intensity and/or early season grazing. WHC was affected more by intensity than season of grazing. Grazing affected WHC through species composition changes, since species have different WHC, and through trampling which affected particle size. It was concluded that litter and organic matter WHC were important in rangeland hydrologic assessments.