Optimizing Carbon Storage Within a Spatially Heterogeneous Upland Grassland Through Sheep Grazing Management

Stuart W. Smith, Charlotte Vandenberghe, Astley Hastings, David Johnson, Robin J. Pakeman, René van der Wal, Sarah J. Woodin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Livestock grazing is known to influence carbon (C) storage in vegetation and soil. Yet, for grazing management to be used to optimize C storage, large scale investigations that take into account the typically heterogeneous distribution of grazers and C across the landscape are required. In a landscape-scale grazing experiment in the Scottish uplands, we quantified C stored in swards dominated by the widespread tussock-forming grass species Molinia caerulea. The impact of three sheep stocking treatments (‘commercial’ 2.7 ewes ha−1 y−1, ‘low’ 0.9 ewes ha−1 y−1 and no livestock) on plant C stocks was determined at three spatial scales; tussock, sward and landscape, and these data were used to predict long-term changes in soil organic carbon (SOC). We found that tussocks were particularly dense C stores (that is, high C mass per unit area) and that grazing reduced their abundance and thus influenced C stocks held in M. caerulea swards across the landscape; C stocks were 3.83, 5.01 and 6.85 Mg C ha−1 under commercial sheep grazing, low sheep grazing and no grazing, respectively. Measured vegetation C in the three grazing treatments provided annual C inputs to RothC, an organic matter turnover model, to predict changes in SOC over 100 years. RothC predicted SOC to decline under commercial sheep stocking and increase under low sheep grazing and no grazing. Our findings suggest that no sheep and low-intensity sheep grazing are better upland management practices for enhancing plant and soil C sequestration than commercial sheep grazing. This is evaluated in the context of other upland management objectives.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)418-429
Number of pages12
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 6 Dec 2014


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