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Keywords:

  • disturbance;
  • exotic species;
  • grassy woodlands;
  • grazing;
  • rare species;
  • temperate grasslands

Abstract

A survey of grassy woodlands in the Queensland subtropics was conducted, recording herbaceous species richness at 212 sites on three properties (2756 ha). A range of habitats typical of cattle grazing enterprises was sampled and site variables included lithology, slope position, tree density, soil disturbance, soil enrichment and grazing. Results were compared with a previously published survey of temperate grasslands. Lithology, slope position and tree density had relatively minor effects on plant species richness, although in both surveys there was some evidence of lower species richness on the more fertile substrates. Soil disturbance and soil enrichment significantly reduced the richness of native species in both surveys, while exotic species were insensitive (subtropics) or increased (temperate) with disturbance. Rare native species were highly sensitive to disturbances, including grazing, in the temperate study. Although some trends were similar for rare species in the subtropics, the results were not significant and there were complex interactions between grazing, lithology and slope position. Grazing did not have a negative effect on native species richness, except in the closely grazed patches within pastures, and then only on the most intensively developed property. At the scale recorded (30 m2), the native pastures, roadsides and stock routes sampled in the subtropics appear to be among the most species-rich grasslands ever reported, both nationally and globally. Native species richness was approximately 50% higher than the temperate survey figures across all the comparable habitats. While there are no clear reasons for this result, potential explanations are proposed.