Less intensively managed grasslands have greater plant diversity and better soil health, research shows for the first time

Studies show that less intensively managed grasslands have greater plant diversity. Painted cows are fed on pasture in Arnside, Cumbria. Credit: Markus Wagner

Researchers have shown – for the first time – that less intensively managed British pastures have on average 50% more plant species and better soil health than intensively managed grasslands. The new study could help farmers increase both biodiversity and soil health, including carbon sequestration, in the soils of the British countryside.

Pasture grassland makes up a large part of the British countryside and is important to farming and rural communities. This land may be thought to be just about food production, but this study provides more evidence that it can be important for increasing biodiversity and soil health.

Researchers from the UK Center for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH) studied 940 plots of grassland, comparing randomly selected plots that sampled the extent of grassland management across Great Britain; from intensively managed land some sown grassland species and higher levels of soil phosphorus (indicating tillage/re-seed and fertilizer and slurry application), grasslands with higher levels of species and lower levels of soil phosphorus until. The plots were sampled as part of the UKCEH Countryside Survey, a nationally representative long-term dataset.

The study counted the number of plant species in the sampling areas and analyzed co-located soil samples for the number of soil invertebrates and carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus levels.

The researchers found that less intensively managed grassland had a greater diversity of plant species and, surprisingly, correlated with better soil health, such as increased levels of nitrogen and carbon and increased levels of invertebrates in the soil. Increase in numbers such as springtails and mites.

In the same study, researchers used similar methods to examine plant diversity and soil from grasslands on 56 mostly beef farms from the Pasture Fed Livestock Association (PFLA)—a farmers’ group that has worked to manage soil and pasture health and Standards have been developed for improvement. ,

The researchers found that plots of land from PFLA farms had greater plant diversity—an average of six additional plant species, including a variety of grasses and herbaceous flowering plants—than intensively cultivated plots from rural surveys. Huh. In addition, the meadow plants on these farms were often taller, a trait that proved beneficial to butterflies and bees.

Pester Fed Livestock Association grasslands have not yet shown an increase in soil health, but research has indicated that this may be due to the time lag between increased numbers of plant species and changes in soil health, especially on farms that have been intensively managed in the past.

Lead author Dr Lisa Norton, senior scientist at UKCEH, says: “We have shown for the first time on land managed by farmers for production that higher plant diversity in grasslands is related to better soil health. This work also tells us Members of the Pester Fed Livestock Association are on the right track in increasing biodiversity, although it may take longer to see improvements in soil health.

“A meadow with a diverse range of plants able to grow tall and flower is associated with improved soil health measures, and is beneficial to creepers that crawl above and below the ground. Our meadows The abundance of life in the soil may in turn support small mammals and birds of prey, and farmers have told us they are seeing voles and rats in their fields for the first time.”

Dr Norton says: “My hope for the future is that our grasslands can be managed less intensively – with all the improvements in plant and animal biodiversity and soil health – but still productive for farmers stay tuned.”

The study was published in the journal Ecological Solutions and Evidence On November 25, 2022.

more information:
Lisa R. Norton et al, Can pasture-raised animal husbandry practices improve the ecological status of grassland in Great Britain?, Ecological Solutions and Evidence (2022). DOI: 10.1002/2688-8319.12191

Provided by the UK Center for Ecology and Hydrology

Citation: Less intensively managed grasslands have greater plant diversity and better soil health, research shows for the first time (2022, Nov 25) https://phys.org/news/2022-11-intensively- Retrieved on 25 November 2022 from grasslands-higher-. diversity-soil.html

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