Plant community responses to integrating livestock into a reduced‐till organic cropping system
Larson, Christian D.
Menalled, Fabian D.
Lehnhoff, Erik A.
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The problems with herbicide- and tillage-based weed management in agriculture are well doc-umented and have precipitated research intofinding alternatives. Integrating livestock grazing intoorganic agroecosystems has benefits and is a viable method for terminating cover crops, yet its impacts onweed communities are largely unknown. This lack of knowledge is particularly true in semi-arid environ-ments, including the Northern Great Plains, where we conducted our research. We compared weed com-munity responses (biomass, species richness, Simpson’s diversity, composition) of a sheep-grazed organiccropping system with those of two contrasting cropping systems (high input conventional no-till, tilledorganic) across afive-year crop rotation (safflower, sweet clover, winter wheat, lentils, winter wheat). Wefound that the conventional no-till and tilled organic systems suppressed weed biomass and reduced spe-cies richness and diversity, while the grazed organic resulted in higher weed biomass, species richness, anddiversity. During thefirst two years of the study, the composition of the two organic communities were dis-tinct from the conventional no-till communities but were indistinguishable from one another. Over thefinalthree years of the study, grazed organic communities were tightly grouped and became distinct from boththe tilled and conventional communities. We found that weed biomass and diversity were highest in thesweet clover and lowest in the winter wheat. The spring annual crops, safflower and lentil, demonstratedsimilar weed biomass, species richness, and composition. Ourfindings indicate that integrating livestockinto cropping systems alters plant communities and increases the agroecosystem plant biodiversity ofsemi-arid organic farming and that specific crops interact with cropping systems to alter agroecosystemplant communities. However, the increase in weed biomass associated with our grazing treatment makesthis approach impractical as the sole weed management strategy and necessitates that integrating livestockinto semi-arid organic cropping systems must be part of a larger integrated weed management program.
Larson, C. D., F. D. Menalled, E. A. Lehnhoff, and T. Seipel. 2021. Plant community responses to integrating livestock into a reduced-till organic cropping system. Ecosphere 12(3):e03412. 10.1002/ecs2.3412