Tropical Grasslands (2007) Volume 41, 154–163

The original native pasture ecosystems of the eastern and western Darling Downs — can they be restored?

RICHARD G. SILCOCK1 AND WALTER J. SCATTINI2

1 Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Yeerongpilly, Queensland, Australia
2 Lorimer Terrace, Kelvin Grove, Queensland, Australia

Abstract

The original pasture ecosystems of southern inland Queensland ranged from treeless grasslands on cracking clays through grassy woodlands of varying density on a great range of soil types to those competing at the dynamic edges of forests and scrubs. Fire, both wild and aboriginal-managed, was a major factor, along with rainfall extremes, in shaping the pastures and tree:grass balance. Seedling recruitment was driven by rainfall extremes, availability of germinable seed and growing space, with seed availability and space being linked to the timing and intensity of recent fires and rain. The impact of insects, diseases, severe wind and hailstorms on recruitment should not be underestimated.
The more fertile soils had denser grass growth, greater fire frequency and thinner tree cover than infertile soils, except where trees were so dense that grass growth was almost eliminated. The pastures were dominated by perennial tussock grasses of mid-height but included a wide array of minor herbaceous species whose abundance was linked to soil type and recent seasonal conditions. Many were strongly perennial with Asteraceae, Fabaceae, Malvaceae, Cyperaceae and Goodeniaceae most common in an environment, which can experience effective rainfall at any time of year.
The former grassland communities that are now productive farming lands are not easily returned to their original composition. However, conservation of remnant examples of original pasture types is very achievable provided tree density is controlled, prescribed burning and grazing are used and rigorous control of invasive, exotic species is undertaken. This should be done with a clear understanding that significant short- and medium-term fluctuations in botanical composition are normal.

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