Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 107, Issue 2, pp 227–245 | Cite as

Soil microbial communities in different rangeland management systems of a sandy savanna and clayey grassland ecosystem, South Africa

  • E. Kotzé
  • A. Sandhage-Hofmann
  • W. Amelung
  • R. J. Oomen
  • C. C. du Preez
Original Article


Soil nutrient supply in rangelands depends on the maintenance and performance of soil microbiological communities. In this study we investigated how different rangeland management systems affects the structure and function of soil microbial communities in the clayey grassland and sandy savanna ecosystems, South Africa. These ecosystems differ in climate, soil and vegetation, with the sandy savanna ecosystem being drier, and encroached by bush. Soils were sampled under continuous and rotational grazing systems along a gradient with increasing grazing pressure. Analyses comprised of enzyme activities and phospholipid fatty acids (PLFA). The results revealed that the clayey grassland ecosystem displayed elevated enzyme activities and PLFA contents compared with the drier, sandy savanna ecosystem, irrespective of the rangeland management practices, likely because soil texture played a significant role in maintaining microbial communities. However, when microbial activity was normalized to carbon, nitrogen and microbial biomass, specific enzyme activities were significantly higher in the sandy savanna ecosystem, indicating a more efficient functioning of microbes here. Furthermore, these microbial parameters were more sensitive to grazing pressure in the clayey grassland ecosystem than other chemical or physical soil properties, whereas in the sandy savanna ecosystem this was not the case. Decreasing the grazing pressure on rangeland, as, e.g., done by commercial farmers practicing rotational grazing, appeared to stimulate microbial performance and thus microbial mediated nutrient mineralization with positive consequences on plant growth.


Bacteria Enzymes Fungi PLFA Grazing Rangeland management 



The authors would like to express our appreciation to all staff members of the University of Bonn and the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein for their assistance in field and labor. We wish to thank the community members and farmers for allowing us to do our research on their land. The authors are grateful to the German Research Foundation for funding this project (DFG FOR 1501). We would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable and insightful comments to improve this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. Kotzé
    • 1
  • A. Sandhage-Hofmann
    • 2
  • W. Amelung
    • 2
  • R. J. Oomen
    • 3
  • C. C. du Preez
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Soil, Crop and Climate SciencesUniversity of the Free StateBloemfonteinSouth Africa
  2. 2.Institute of Crop Science and Resource Conservation, Soil Science and Soil EcologyUniversity of BonnBonnGermany
  3. 3.Institute of Crop Science and Resource Conservation, Crop EcologyUniversity of BonnBonnGermany

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