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Plant and Soil

Do soil enzymes respond to long-term grazing in an arid ecosystem?

Nelda L. Olivera, Luciano Prieto, Analía L. Carrera, Hebe Saraví Cisneros, Mónica B. Bertiller

Centro Nacional Patagónico (CONICET), Boulevard Brown 2915, U9120ACF, Puerto Madryn, Chubut, Argentina.


Background and aims

Our objective was to assess the effects of long-term continuous grazing on soil enzyme activities in relation to shifts in plant litter attributes and soil resources in an arid ecosystem, considering both spatial and temporal variations.


We randomly extracted soil samples with the respective litter cover at 5 modal size plant-covered patches (PCP) and the nearest inter-canopy areas (IC) at Patagonian Monte sites with low, medium and high grazing intensity in winter and summer from 2007 to 2009. We analyzed enzyme activities (dehydrogenase, ß-glucosidase, protease, alkaline and acid phosphatase), microbial biomass-C, organic-C, total soil-N, and moisture in soil and mass and quality in plant litter. We assessed faeces density and plant cover in the field.

Results and conclusions

Grazing led to reduced grass cover, decreasing plant litter mass with increasing soluble phenolics, and reduced phosphatases, ß-glucosidase and microbial biomass-C at PCP. A localized nutrient input from animal excreta seems to promote microbial biomass-C, alkaline phosphatase and dehydrogenase activities but only at IC from the site with high grazing intensity. Plant heterogeneous distribution, plant litter quantity and quality, nutrient inputs from grazers and seasonal variation in soil moisture, also affecting soil resources and microbial biomass, modulate soil enzyme responses to long-term grazing in the arid Patagonian Monte.

Keywoards: Arid ecosystems; Grazing; Plant litter; Soil enzymes; Microbial biomass.

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