1 The Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Cali, Colombia; 2 Faculty of Tropical AgriSciences, Czech University of Life Sciences, Prague, Czech Republic; 3 Departamento de Producción Agraria, Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingeniería Agronómica, Alimentaria y de Biosistemas, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Madrid, Spain; 4 Department of Soil Biogeochemistry and Soil Ecology, University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth, Germany; 5 Never +, Villavicencio, Colombia; 6 Centro de Negocios Ganaderos, Villavicencio, Colombia; 7 Soil Biology Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands.
• The impact of intensive rotational grazing (IRG) on soil properties was investigated.
• IRG improved soil quality despite the higher stocking rates compared to reference farms.
• Changes in soil properties related with a change in forage species composition.
• Soil macrofauna was a suitable indicator of soil quality improvement.
• IRG can contribute to sustainable intensification of tropical grazing systems.
Large-scale conversion of natural ecosystems to grazed grasslands and subsequent soil degradation due to overgrazing and inadequate pasture management in tropical agroecosystems urgently call for sustainable intensification of grazing systems, i.e. increasing animal productivity while maintaining or improving soil quality and ecosystem services. We investigated the impact of intensive short-duration rotational grazing (IRG) management on soil properties in two study sites in Colombian Eastern Plains. In each site, one farm with stocking rates as high as 4.2 livestock units (LU) ha−1 managed by IRG was compared with an adjacent traditionally managed (reference) farm with low animal stocking rate (1 LU ha−1), where cattle grazing was either continuous (Morichal site), or rotational with long grazing period and short periods of pasture recovery (Villasol site). As early as nine months after the adoption of IRG management, both farms managed by IRG had lower bulk density and higher water retention capacity than their respective reference farms, despite the more than four-times higher stocking rates. The animal feed supplement at the IRG farm at Morichal likely contributed to higher soil organic carbon stocks and improved soil aggregation when compared to the reference farm and to the Villasol site, where no supplement was applied. The improvement of soil properties found in IRG farms, compared to reference farms, was associated with a higher macrofauna abundance, particularly that of earthworms and beetles, which play a crucial role in soil structure improvement through bioturbation. Our results demonstrate the capacity of IRG management to intensify cattle production per unit area, while simultaneously improving soil properties and increasing soil macrofauna biodiversity as early as nine months since the implementation of IRG management.
Keywords: Soil macrofauna, Soil aggregation, Tropical forage, Grazing management, Colombian Eastern Plains.
Abstract published in Applied Soil Ecology, Volume 159, March 2021, 103835. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apsoil.2020.103835.