Assessing the relationship between fire and grazing on soil characteristics and mite communities in a semi-arid savanna of northern Australia
Faculty of Computing, Health and Science
School of Natural Sciences
Northern Australian tropical savannas are subjected to pressures from both grazing and planned and unplanned burning. We know little about the effects of these processes on the below-ground environment. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of fire, grazing and season on environmental and biological properties of the soil at the base of grass tussocks in asemi-aridsavanna rangeland of north Australia. A long-term fire and grazing exclusion experiment was used to test the effects of season, fire and grazing on soil physicochemical factors (soil organic carbon, total nitrogen, ammonium, nitrate levels and bulk density) and soilmite abundance and diversity. Grazed plots were associated with small but significant reductions in total soil nitrogen and organic carbon when compared to 30 year old plots where grazing and fire had been excluded. This suggests slow, long-term losses of nitrogen and soil carbon from an ecosystem with limited available nutrients. Fire had a limited impact on soil properties, but this may reflect the modest experimental fire intensity resulting from fuel reduction due to grazing. Treatment effects on soil bulk density were also negligible. Season had a significant impact on total soilmite abundance and diversity, whereas burning and grazing treatments had no impact on soilmites. Only two morpho-species, one each from the families Cunaxidae and Stigmaeidae, decreased in abundance as a result of grazing. Increased moisture levels in the wet season were associated with increased total nitrogen and the highly mobile nitrate. Changes in mite abundance and diversity reflected these changes in levels of nitrogen and it is possible that increasing total nitrogen availability and soil moisture, is a determinant of mite abundance.