Natural grasslands are among the most threatened biomes on Earth. They are under pressure from land cover change including afforestation, farming intensification, invasive species, altered fire regimes, and soil amendments, all of which impact native biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. In Aotearoa New Zealand, tussock-dominated native grasslands expanded due to increased fire activity during waves of human settlement. These areas have subsequently been maintained as modified grasslands by agricultural pastoral land management practices and effects of introduced feral mammals.
Environmental variation is a crucial driver of ecological pattern, and spatial layers representing this variation are key to understanding and predicting important ecosystem distributions and processes. A national, standardised collection of different environmental gradients has the potential to support a variety of large-scale research questions, but to date these data sets have been limited and difficult to obtain.
We sampled soils and vegetation within and outside two sheep and rabbit exclosures, fenced in 1979, on steep sunny and shady slopes at 770 m altitude on seasonally-dry pastoral steeplands. The vegetation of sunny aspects was characterised by higher floristic diversity, annual species, and low plant cover. Here the exotic grass Anthoxanthum odoratum dominated on grazed treatments, and the exotic forb Hieracium pilosella on ungrazed. Shady aspects supported fewer, and almost entirely perennial, species.
The relative abundance of entomopathogenic nematodes and fungi was estimated for 10 sites in each of indigenous forest, pasture, and cropland habitats by baiting soil samples with Galleria larvae. The steinernematid Steinernema feltiae (Filip) was the dominant nematode, occurring in soils from all three habitat types. The heterorhabditid Heterorhabditis zelandica Poinar was recovered only from soils of podocarp (Dacrycarpus dacrydioides (A. Rich.)) forests.