- Department of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Hyvarinen, Olli; te Beest, Mariska; le Roux, Elizabeth; Kerley, Graham I. H.; Findlay, Nicola; Schenkeveld, Walter D. C.; Trouw, Victor; Cromsigt, Joris P. G. M.
Recent studies suggest that wild animals can promote ecosystem carbon sinks through their impacts on vegetation and soils. However, livestock studies show that intense levels of grazing reduce soil organic carbon (SOC), leading to concerns that rewilding with large grazers may compromise ecosystem carbon storage. Furthermore, wild grazers can both limit and promote woody plant recruitment and survival on savanna grasslands, with both positive and negative impacts on SOC, depending on the rainfall and soil texture contexts. We used grazing lawns in one of the few African protected savannas that are still dominated by megagrazers (> 1000 kg), namely white rhinoceros Ceratotherium simum, as a model to study the impact of prolonged and intense wild grazing on SOC stocks. We contrasted SOC stocks between patches of varying grazing intensity and woody plant encroachment in sites across different rhino habitat types. We found no differences in SOC stocks between the most- and least grazed plots in any of the habitats. Intermediately grazed plots, however, had higher SOC stocks in the top 5 cm compared to most and least grazed plots, but only in the closed-canopy woodland habitat and not in the open habitats. Importantly, we found no evidence to support the hypothesis that wild grazing reduces SOC, even at high grazing intensities by the world's largest megagrazer. Compared to the non-encroached reference plots, woody encroached plots had higher SOC stocks in soils with low clay content and lower SOC stocks in soils with high clay content, although only in the top 5 cm. Accordingly, our study highlights that wild grazers may influence SOC indirectly through their impact on tree-grass ratios in grassy ecosystems. Our study thus provides important insights for future natural climate solutions that focus on wild grazer conservation and restoration.Keywords: fire, grazing impact, rewilding, soil carbon, white rhinoceros, woody encroachment
fire; grazing impact; rewilding; soil carbon; white rhinoceros; woody encroachment
2023, number: 9