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Ecological impacts of dryland grazing revealed in global study

Locations of the 98 study sites with examples of the local grazing gradients surveyed at each site. Credit Maestre et al.
Dryland-RFP-121222

The research is key to understanding the future of dryland ecosystems

An international team of scientists who surveyed dozens of countries has revealed practical findings from the first global study examining the toll grazing in drylands has on the benefits gained from nature.

One of the major discoveries from the research, published in Science with co-authors from the University of Sydney, identified how grazing pressure can bring about a positive or negative result depending on local characteristics.



Grazing was found to be beneficial in colder drylands with less rainfall and greater plant diversity. But these benefits turned negative in warmer locations which had higher rainfall and a weaker variety of plants.

RAMIFICATIONS OF THE RESEARCH



“The research suggests people with grazing livestock in drylands should be mindful of the local seasonal conditions on their property and not exceed the capacity of the system to support grazing,” said Professor Glenda Wardle from the University of Sydney’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences. She was a co-author on the study with Aaron Greenville who leads the Ecosystem Dynamics Lab.

“Better informed decisions will require continued monitoring of the impacts of grazing and flexibility of approaches to ensure that grazing in Australia’s vast drylands can be sustained for people and nature.”

Locations of the 98 study sites with examples of the local grazing gradients surveyed at each site. Credit Maestre et al.
Dryland-RFP-121222

The international team based the Science findings on nine ecosystem services: soil carbon storage, organic matter decomposition, water regulation, erosion control, soil fertility, plant biomass, wood quantity, and forage quality and quantity.

Drylands represent about 75 percent of Australia’s landscape and more than 40 percent of land globally – providing food for billions of people.

Now, farmers have a frame of reference they can use to make livestock grazing as harmless as possible in drylands as the global population increases and the climate changes.

More than 130 researchers contributed to the study, surveying 98 dryland sites across six continents in the multi-year research project.

Professor Wardle co-leads the Desert Ecology Research Group and is a member of the Institute of Agriculture and Charles Perkins Centre.

“Our study results benefited from studying two reserves managed by Bush Heritage Australia where livestock were removed, our Desert Ecology Research Group data collected over 30 years in the Simpson Desert ecosystem, and support from TERN, Australia’s land-based observatory.”

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