UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Development of health indicators for rough fescue grasslands in the southern interior of British Columbia Lamagna, Sarah Frances


Grasslands throughout the world including those in British Columbia have been severely reduced and altered by agricultural production and inappropriate livestock grazing practices. Ongoing degradation of rangelands is a worldwide problem, currently affecting about 680 million hectares of rangelands. Studies on development and application of criteria and indicators for forests and grasslands are often lacking, or have been done on a limited number of sites with relatively narrow ranges of climate and soil type. This study aims to (i) quantify the relationships among soil/vegetation properties known to be affected by grazing to easily-assessed indicators, used in the existing health assessment systems, that do not require laboratory analyses or time consuming measurement, and (ii) to evaluate impacts of grazing on soil aggregate stability on the rough fescue grasslands of the southern interior of British Columbia. During the growing seasons of 2006 and 2007, soil and vegetation properties were measured on nine open grassland sites with a potential natural plant community dominated by rough fescue (Festuca campestris Rydb.) in the southern interior of British Columbia. Each site had at least one area excluded from grazing and all units were classified into different seral stages according to the amount of rough fescue present on the land. Rough fescue cover was found to be a useful indicator of the presence of functioning recovery mechanisms. Percent exposed mineral soil was found to be a sensitive indicator of the degree of soil stability and watershed function, as well as an indicator of the integrity of nutrient cycles and energy flows in rough fescue grasslands. Percent Junegrass cover was not as sensitive an indicator as percent exposed mineral soil, but has general overall strength with many health measures.. Only the 1-2 mm aggregate size class was closely related to most soil and vegetation properties, showing that it is more sensitive than the other aggregate stability parameters to soil and vegetation properties. The results from this study can help rangeland managers and ranchers in determining the rangeland health in their area as well as help researchers understand that only a certain number of parameters need to be assessed.

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