We used three 35-year exclosures to examine the effects of high elk populations on a variety of soil properties in three vegetation types: upland sagebrush, aspen, and meadow. Grazing and hoof action by elk significantly increased bulk density (from 0.87 kg/l ungrazed to 0.94 kg/l grazed), with greater effects on soils with fewer rocks. Grazing substantially reduced extractable calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus in the sagebrush type, but not in the aspen or meadow types. The only grazing effect on pH came in aspen types, where grazing prevented aspen establishment, and kept soil pH about 0.7 units higher than under aspen inside the exclosures. Grazing had no overall effect on total soil C and N across all exclosures and vegetation types. The availability of soil nitrogen, indexed by in-field resin bags and net mineralization in soil cores, showed little overall effect of grazing. Limited data on soil leaching indicated a possibility of strong increases in nitrate leaching with grazing for an aspen vegetation type at one exclosure. Although we found little effect of grazing on soil N supply, we note that N fertilization doubled the production of grasses and shrubs; if grazing eventually led to changes in soil N supply, species composition and growth would likely change. ?? 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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Influence of elk grazing on soil properties in Rocky Mountain National Park