Soil degradation related to overgrazing in the semi-arid southern caldenal area of Argentina

B. V. Villamil, N. M. Amiotti, N. Peinemann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The aim of the present study is to determine quantitatively the magnitude of the structural changes that occur in the soil during the degradation process affecting natural grassland in the semi-arid ecosystem of the southern area of the District of the Caldén, Argentina. Topsoil horizons show a reduction in depth from 20 cm in ungrazed sites to 16 cm in grazed sites, mainly as a consequence of soil compression caused by animal hooves. Bulk density values in the first 5 cm of the profile in grazed sites are approximately 27% higher than those in ungrazed sites. Total porosity values in the top few centimeters are, on average, 17% lower in grazed sites, primarily due to the collapse of macropores (>50 μm) and larger mesopores (50-9 μm). Water retention curves for the three depths in the different patches reflect the changes in pore space distribution. Grazing causes a sharp increase in mechanical impedance - an average increment of 210% over ungrazed values in the first 10 cm of soil. There are marked differences in the degree of aggregation in grazed sites compared with ungrazed sites. The former show a lower quantity and density of roots in the top few centimeters of the profile. Changes are also evident in average root diameter as a result of vegetation substitution brought on by overgrazing. The lack of significant differences in soil physical properties in areas subject to different grazing intensities underscores the gravity of the problem caused by animal traffic, which poses a serious threat to the conservation and recovery of the grazed patches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)441-452
Number of pages12
JournalSoil Science
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Natural grasslands
  • Overgrazing
  • Roots
  • Semi-arid area
  • Soil physical properties

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science


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