Long-term Grazing Negatively Affects Nitrogen Dynamics in Northern Patagonian Wet Meadows

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College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


Wet meadows are seasonally saturated wetlands that can develop in arid and semi-arid areas. In the semi-arid region of North Patagonia, Argentina wet meadows are islands of high net primary productivity surrounded by low productivity steppe vegetation. Because of this, Patagonian wet meadows have been heavily grazed by livestock for more than a century. It has been shown that overgrazed wet meadows have lower soil carbon, however, little is known about how overgrazing impacts N dynamics. To this end, we measured ammonium (NH4+), nitrate (NO3-), and total nitrogen (Nt) in paired wet meadows that varied in long-term grazing intensity (heavy vs. light). Results indicate that heavily grazed sites had on average 43% less Nt and 57% less NH4+ than lightly grazed sites. Soil NH4+ concentrations were always significantly greater than NO3- concentrations, being the later often below detection levels. In addition, NH4+ concentrations were correlated with soil moisture in lightly grazed sites, but not in heavily grazed sites. These findings indicate that implementation of better management practices are currently needed to promote more sustainable grazing in semi-arid wet meadows of North Patagonia.

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© 2014 Elsevier Ltd.

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Journal of Arid Environments