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Keywords:

  • Biodiversity;
  • Floristic composition;
  • Growth form;
  • Gradient;
  • Physiognomy;
  • Soil property;
  • Topography

Abstract. Effects of grazing and environment on vegetation structure have been widely acknowledged, but few studies have related both factors. We made 57 floristic samples in a highly variable landscape of mountain grasslands in central Argentina; 26 sample were in fence-lines with contrasting vegetation. For each sample, we recorded topographic and edaphic parameters, as well as grazing intensity indicators. Floristic gradients were analysed with DCA and relations with abiotic and grazing-related variables were detected with DCCA. Floristic axis 1 was explained by edaphic parameters associated to topography, ranging from communities in well drained soils on upper topographic positions to hydromorphic vegetation in poorly drained soils on lower topographic positions. Species richness decreased as soil moisture increased. Floristic axis 2 was associated with present and long-term grazing indicators, and reflected shifts in vegetation physiognomy and species evenness. Tall tussock grasslands, with low species evenness and evidences of low or null grazing intensity were located at one extreme. Tussocks were gradually replaced by short graminoids and forbs towards the centre of the gradient, as grazing increased, and evenness reached a maximum. In degraded sites with heavy long-term grazing intensities, short perennial species were replaced by an annual species, and evenness decreased. The magnitude of changes in floristic composition produced by grazing decreased with increasing soil moisture, and vegetation-environment relationships were stronger in moderate to highly grazed situations than in lightly or non grazed situations.