Abstract: Managing large variations in herbage production, resulting from highly variable seasonal rainfall, provides a major challenge for the sustainable management of Astrebla (Mitchell grass) grasslands in Australia. A grazing study with sheep was conducted between 1984 and 2010 on an Astrebla grassland in northern Queensland to describe the effects of a range of levels of utilisation of the herbage at the end of the summer growing season (April–May in northern Australia) on the sustainability of these grasslands. In unreplicated paddocks, sheep numbers were adjusted annually to achieve 0, 10, 20, 30, 50 and 80% utilisation of the herbage mass at the end of the summer over the ensuing 12 months. Higher levels of utilisation reduced both total and Astrebla spp. herbage mass because of the effects of higher utilisation on Astrebla spp. and this effect was accentuated by drought. The tussock density of Astrebla spp. varied widely among years but with few treatment differences until 2005 when density was reduced at the 50% level of utilisation. A major change in density resulted from a large recruitment of Astrebla spp. in 1989 that influenced its density for the remainder of the study. Basal area of the tussocks fluctuated among years, with increases due to rainfall and decreases during droughts. Seasonal rainfall was more influential than level of utilisation in changes to the basal area of perennial grasses. Drought resulted in the death of Astrebla spp. tussocks and this effect was accentuated at higher levels of utilisation. A series of three grazing exclosures were used to examine the recovery of the density and basal area of Astrebla spp. after it had been reduced by 80% utilisation over the preceding 9 years. This recovery study indicated that, although grazing exclusion was useful in the recovery of Astrebla spp., above-average rainfall was the major factor driving increases in the basal area of perennial grasses. Spring values of the Southern Oscillation Index and associated rainfall probabilities were considered to have potential for understanding the dynamics of Astrebla spp. It was concluded that Astrebla grassland remained sustainable after 26 years when grazed at up to 30% utilisation, while, at 50% utilisation, they became unsustainable after 20 years. Results from this study emphasised the need to maintain the population of Astrebla spp. tussocks.
Notes: see also corrigendum: http://www.publish.csiro.au/paper/RJ11068_CO
Orr, D. M., Phelps, D. G., 2013, Impacts of level of utilisation by grazing on an Astrebla (Mitchell grass) grassland in north-western Queensland between 1984 and 2010. 1. Herbage mass and population dynamics of Astrebla spp, Volume:35, Journal Article, viewed 21 November 2019, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=2646.