Waiting for main navigation ...

High resistance of soils to short-term re-grazing in a long-term abandoned alpine pasture (2020)

Vidal A., Schucknecht A., Toechterle P., Linares D., Garcia-Franco N., von Heßberg A., Krämer A., Sierts A., Fischer A., Willibald G., Fuetterer S., Ewald J., Baumert V., Weiss M., Schulz S., Schloter M., Bogacki W., Wiesmeier M., Mueller C., Dannenmann M.

Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 300 (), 107008



Grazed alpine pastures have shaped landscapes of the European Alps for millennia, but have partially been abandoned since the 1950s. Re-grazing of abandoned pastures could preserve this cultural landscape with its high species diversity, but also alter soil carbon and nitrogen cycles, as well as microbial communities, potentially affecting ecosystem services (e.g., water purification, carbon and nitrogen storage). However, there is a lack of information on the resistance of soil characteristics to re-grazing effects. After characterising the distribution of vegetation types of an abandoned pasture in the German Alps, we investigated short-term effects of re-grazing on soil organic carbon and nitrogen biochemistry, soil microbial communities, and water quality along a gradient of grazing intensity. The abandoned grassland studied presented a remarkably high diversity of species and habitats even 60 years after abandonment. It was also found to be particularly rich in terms of microbial biomass, as well as in soil carbon and nitrogen. A few months after re-grazing started, extractable organic carbon, gross nitrogen mineralisation rates and inorganic nitrogen concentrations were increased only in intensively grazing-affected areas with bare soil (i.e. concentration of cows with excreta inputs), which insignificantly contributed to the overall area. Re-grazing did not affect the microbial abundance, whatever the grazing intensity, but induced a community shift towards a smaller proportion of fungi compared to bacteria and an increase of ammonia oxidizers (archaea/bacteria) under bare soil conditions. Concentrations of dissolved organic carbon and nitrate in the draining creek remained very low. Overall, re-grazing of pastures in the first season had very limited effects on microbial communities and associated carbon and nitrogen turnover and concentrations, highlighting the resistance of the studied alpine soils to extensive re-grazing. Our results indicate how to develop sustainable management strategies that preserve alpine pastures from degradation.