Landscape Ecology

, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 107–119 | Cite as

Blowing in the wind? Nutrient enrichment of remnant woodlands in an agricultural landscape

  • David H. Duncan
  • Josh Dorrough
  • Matt White
  • Claire Moxham
Research Article


Increasing fertiliser use in agricultural landscapes is likely to threaten the viability of remnant native vegetation in many parts of the world. Australia’s prime grain production landscapes have nutrient poor soils, which formerly supported semi-arid woodland. The ecological function and capacity for regeneration of these remnants may be particularly susceptible to nutrient enrichment. The key sources of nutrients are wind and water deposition from crop fertilisation, and manure and feed from sheep. We hypothesised that these sources would result in unequal deposition of nutrients within and among remnant vegetation patches. We surveyed soil nutrients (Total N, Available P and K, C:N ratio, and soil pH) in the edges and interiors of 60 remnant woodland patches of various sizes, and in adjacent cultivated paddocks. Nutrient load was negatively correlated with remnant size and patterns were particularly strong for available P. Small remnant patches (<3 ha) were accumulation zones for nutrients, with levels comparable or higher than within crop lands. The patterns are consistent with the hypothesis that small remnants are strongly enriched as a result of being used for livestock shelter. In larger remnants, the primary cause of enrichment is consistent with edge accumulation of nutrients due to wind and water movement. In large patches, remnant edges, particularly the windward edge, were elevated compared to interiors of large patches. In these semi-arid crop lands, current trends in intensification of cropping and a shift away from livestock may reduce the input of nutrients to small patches but increase the nutrient threat to larger remnants.


Fragmentation Edge effects Phosphorus Grazing Intensification Cereal cropping Semi-arid woodlands Australia 



We thank Pierre Compere, Huon Stephens, Louise Grgat, Cassia Read and Lucy Simnett for field assistance. Soil analyses were performed by CBSP Laboratories, Bibra Lake, Western Australia. Numerous Landholders and Parks Victoria allowed us to conduct surveys on their properties. This manuscript was improved by the comments of Libby Rumpff and two anonymous reviewers. This project was supported by the North Central and Mallee Catchment Management Authorities through the Natural Heritage Trust and the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality, and the Victorian State Government initiative “Our Rural Landscapes”.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • David H. Duncan
    • 1
  • Josh Dorrough
    • 1
    • 2
  • Matt White
    • 1
  • Claire Moxham
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Sustainability and EnvironmentArthur Rylah Institute for Environmental ResearchHeidelbergAustralia
  2. 2.CSIRO Sustainable EcosystemsCanberraAustralia

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