Pasture degradation effects on soil quality indicators at different hillslope positions in a semiarid region of western Iran
A study was made to determine the influence of pasture degradation on soil quality indicators that included physical, chemical, biological and micromorphological attributes, along the hillslope positions in Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province, western Iran. Soil samples from different slope positions were collected from 0 to 30 cm depth for physical and chemical properties and from 0 to 15 cm depth for biological properties at two adjacent sites in the two ecosystems: natural pasture and cultivated land. Soil quality indicators including bulk density, mean weight diameter, soil organic carbon (SOC), particulate organic material (POM) in aggregate fractions, total nitrogen, available potassium, available phosphorus, cation exchange capacity, soil microbial respiration (SMR) and microbial biomass C and N were determined. The results showed that SOC decreased cultivation from 1.09 to 0.77 % following pasture degradation. The POM decreased by about 19.35 % in cultivated soils when compared to natural pasture; also, SMR and microbial biomass C and N decreased significantly following pasture degradation. Furthermore, aggregate stability and pore spaces decreased, and bulk density increased in the cultivated soils. Overall, our results showed that long-term cultivation following pasture degradation led to a decline in soil quality in all selected slope positions at the site studied in the semiarid region.