Thursday, September 30, 2010

Animal trampling

I didn't realize that animal trampling is such a big issue. It goes beyond animals trampling humans or each other, and is the subject of analysis to determine its effects:
  • A team at Southern Methodist University conducted an experiment to show that large hoofed animals can push stone artifacts deeper into the soil. Why does this matter? Because they can't be carbon-dated, so if they are moved below (or above) the layer in which they were used, dating by stratigraphy may result in the age estimate of the object being off by thousands of years. "Pretty much any open-air site located near a water source will potentially be very seriously affected by some of these conclusions."
  • The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations explains that trampling by herbivores has both positive and negative effects. The compacted soil cannot be as easily penetrated by water or seedlings, and the runoff causes erosion. But animal trampling of some crusty soils can mix the seeds and can also stimulate tufts of grass to grow.
  • informs that intense, short-duration trampling and dunging by grazing animals is a natural part of arid ecosystems, which depend on the disturbance to mulch the soil and plant the seeds. Domestic cattle can mimic the effects of migrating wildebeests and heal environmental damage in grasslands and deserts.
  • In the journal Grass and Forage Science, a researcher writes that in temperate climates, the negative effects of animal trampling are remedied when winter frosts heave the surface.
  • To explain the layered structure of scree slopes, Belgian scientists carried out a series of field experiments to determine the rate of rock fragment transport caused by goats and sheep trampling the mountainside.
But not all the trampling is done by animals. Australian scientists assessed the damage done to molluscs, algae, and other organisms by the tread of human feet on rocky shores, "which has increased dramatically in recent years."

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