Landscape function analysis to assess soil processes on farms following ecological restoration and changes in grazing management

Read, Z. J., et al., 2016. European Journal of Soil Science

Original research (primary data)
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There is a global need for inexpensive tools for research and monitoring. Landscape function analysis (LFA) is a visual assessment procedure used to assess and monitor soil function rapidly from measurable soil surface characteristics. It uses 11 indicators of soil biogeochemical properties and processes, and generates three indices of soil function: soil stability, nutrient cycling and infiltration. These indices are strongly associated with the provision and regulation of ecosystem services such as soil retention, cycling of water and nutrients, carbon storage and biomass production. The LFA method can be used to quantify changes in soil function response to natural and anthropogenic disturbances such as variation in climate, changes in management practices and land-use change. Our research assessed LFA for monitoring soil function on livestock farms with four different strategies for grazing management and ecological restoration. With LFA, we showed that (i) soil function returned when severely eroded claypans (scalds) were rehabilitated, (ii) grazing pressure had a greater effect on soil function than grazing regime, (iii) soil function improved with a programme of planned recovery grazing, (iv) soil function increased following afforestation of grazing land with native trees of mixed species and shrubs and (v) soil function responded to seasonal effects and cropping. Our results show that LFA is an effective research and monitoring tool for farm-scale studies. The LFA method produces integrative indices for soil stability, infiltration and nutrient cycling, and provides information on soil function that can be used to guide both management decisions and soil sampling and analysis when more detailed and expensive soil research is justified. Highlights:: We evaluate the effectiveness of LFA as a research and monitoring tool with four case studies. We assess soil function in relation to its maximum potential within biogeochemical limits. The LFA indices show differences in soil function with grazing management and ecological restoration. The LFA method is an effective, rapid and inexpensive field research and monitoring tool.

Case studies

Basic information

  • Case ID: INT-181-1
  • Intervention type: Created habitats
  • Intervention description:

    The biodiverse environmental planting (BEP) on agricultural land (AL)… The BEPs were established by direct-seeding of native trees and shrubs on AL to provide ecosystem services, including shelter from sun and wind for livestock, pastures and crops, and to function as wildlife corridors. The BEPs are fenced and livestock excluded to enhance germination and prevent browsing of young trees. Plantings may be linear, with one or more tree rows along fence lines, contours or roads, or in blocks of several rows of trees. Block plantings are typically on degraded land, less productive hill tops or adjacent to erosion gullies.

  • Landscape/sea scape ecosystem management: No
  • Climate change impacts Effect of Nbs on CCI Effect measures
    Reduced soil quality  Positive Landscape function analysis - The LFA method comprises a conceptual framework, eld methodology and interpretation framework that enables a quanti- ed assessment of soil function. The eld method uses 11 visu- ally acquired soil surface assessment (SSA) indicators that relate to speci c soil properties and processes. The indicators are used to derive three integrative indices: (i) soil stability, the soil’s abil- ity to resist erosion and reform after disturbance, (ii) in ltration, the soil’s capacity to retain rainfall for plant-available water, and (iii) nutrient cycling, how ef ciently organic matter is cycled back into the soil (Figure 1). The SSA indicators incorporate the func- tional traits of deep-rooted perennial plants, litter and soil biological crusts that protect the soil from disturbance, slow surface ow, accu- mulate resources such as sediment and seeds, carbon and nutrient cycling, enhance biological activity, and improve in ltration and soil structure
  • Approach implemented in the field: Yes
  • Specific location:

    20 BEPs on 13 farms (34∘58′14′′S, 149∘01′58′′E); South eastern Australia near Canberra

  • Country: Australia
  • Habitat/Biome type: Created forest | Created grassland |
  • Issue specific term: Not applicable


  • Notes on intervention effectivness: Adjacent agricultural land acted as the control/comparator
  • Is the assessment original?: Yes
  • Broadtype of intervention considered: Not applicable
  • Compare effectivness?: No
  • Compared to the non-NBS approach: Not applicable
  • Report greenhouse gas mitigation?: No
  • Impacts on GHG: Not applicable
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on natural ecosystems: No
  • Impacts for the ecosystem: Not reported
  • Ecosystem measures: n/a
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on people: No
  • Impacts for people: Not reported
  • People measures: n/a
  • Considers economic costs: No
  • Economic appraisal conducted: No
  • Economic appraisal described:
  • Economic costs of alternative considered: No
  • Compared to an alternative: Not reported

Evaluation methodology

  • Type of data: Quantitative
  • Is it experimental: Yes
  • Experimental evalution done: In-situ/field
  • Non-experimental evalution done: Not applicable
  • Study is systematic: