Landscape function analysis to assess soil processes on farms following ecological restoration and changes in grazing management

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There is a global need for inexpensive tools for research and monitoring. Landscape function analysis (LFA) is a visual assessment procedure used to assess and monitor soil function rapidly from measurable soil surface characteristics. It uses 11 indicators of soil biogeochemical properties and processes, and generates three indices of soil function: soil stability, nutrient cycling and infiltration. These indices are strongly associated with the provision and regulation of ecosystem services such as soil retention, cycling of water and nutrients, carbon storage and biomass production. The LFA method can be used to quantify changes in soil function response to natural and anthropogenic disturbances such as variation in climate, changes in management practices and land-use change. Our research assessed LFA for monitoring soil function on livestock farms with four different strategies for grazing management and ecological restoration. With LFA, we showed that (i) soil function returned when severely eroded claypans (scalds) were rehabilitated, (ii) grazing pressure had a greater effect on soil function than grazing regime, (iii) soil function improved with a programme of planned recovery grazing, (iv) soil function increased following afforestation of grazing land with native trees of mixed species and shrubs and (v) soil function responded to seasonal effects and cropping. Our results show that LFA is an effective research and monitoring tool for farm-scale studies. The LFA method produces integrative indices for soil stability, infiltration and nutrient cycling, and provides information on soil function that can be used to guide both management decisions and soil sampling and analysis when more detailed and expensive soil research is justified.

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