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Environ Manage. 1998 Jan;22(1):145-52.

Isotopes, Wool, and Rangeland Monitoring: Let the Sheep Do the Sampling

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The Department of Natural and Rural Systems Management, The University of Queensland, Gatton College Q 4345, Australia


/ Stable carbon isotope analyses of wool staples provided insight into the vegetation consumed by sheep at a temporal resolution not previously studied. Contemporary Australian and historic South African samples dating back to 1916 were analyzed for their stable carbon isotope ratio, a proxy for the proportion of C3 and C4 plant species consumed by animals. Sheep sample vegetation continuously throughout a year, and as their wool grows it integrates and stores information about their diet. In subtropical and tropical rangelands the majority of grass species are C4. Since sheep prefer to graze, and their wool is an isotopic record of their diet, we now have the potential to develop a high resolution index to the availability of grass from a sheep's perspective. Isotopic analyses of wool suggest a new direction for monitoring grazing and for the reconstruction of past vegetation changes, which will make a significant contribution to traditional rangeland ecology and management. It is recommended that isotopic and other analyses of wool be further developed for use in rangeland monitoring programs to provide valuable feedback for land managers.KEY WORDS: Carbon isotope ratios; Vegetation change; Rangelands; Monitoring; Wool.


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