Critical review of the impacts of grazing intensity on soil organic carbon storage and other soil quality indicators in extensively managed grasslands

M. Abdalla* (Corresponding Author), A. Hastings, D. R. Chadwick, D. L. Jones, C. D. Evans, M. B. Jones, R. M. Rees, P. Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

300 Citations (Scopus)
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Livestock grazing intensity (GI) is thought to have a major impact on soil organic carbon (SOC) storage and soil quality indicators in grassland agroecosystems. To critically investigate this, we conducted a global review and meta-analysis of 83 studies of extensive grazing, covering 164 sites across different countries and climatic zones. Unlike previous published reviews we normalized the SOC and total nitrogen (TN) data to a 30 cm depth to be compatible with IPCC guidelines. We also calculated a normalized GI and divided the data into four main groups
depending on the regional climate (dry warm, DW; dry cool, DC; moist warm, MW; moist cool, MC). Our results show that taken across all climatic zones and GIs, grazing (below the carrying capacity of the systems) results in a decrease in SOC storage, although its impact on SOC is climate-dependent. When assessed for different regional climates, all GI levels increased SOC stocks under the MW climate (+7.6%) whilst there were reductions under the MC climate (−19%). Under the DW and DC climates, only the low (+5.8%) and low to medium (+16.1%) grazing intensities, respectively, were associated with increased SOC stocks. High GI significantly increased SOC for C4-dominated grassland compared to C3-dominated grassland and C3-C4 mixed grasslands. It was also associated with significant increases in TN and bulk density but had no effect on soil pH. To protect grassland soils from degradation, we recommend that GI and management practices should be optimized according to climate region and grassland type (C3, C4 or C3-C4 mixed).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-81
Number of pages20
JournalAgriculture Ecosystems & Environment
Early online date6 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018

Bibliographical note

This work contributes to the N-Circle project (grant number BB/N013484/1), and CINAg (BB/N013468/1) Virtual Joint Centres on Agricultural Nitrogen (funded by the Newton Fund via UK BBSRC/NERC), U-GRASS (grant number NE/M016900/1), the Belmont Forum/FACCE-JPI DEVIL project (grant number NE/M021327/1), Soils-R-GGREAT (grant number NE/P019455/1), ADVENT (grant number NE/M019713/1), Sêr Cymru LCEE-NRN project, Climate-Smart Grass and the Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Programme.


  • Grazing
  • Soil organic carbon
  • Grassland
  • Grazing intensity


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