Vineyard floor management intensity impacts soil health indicators and plant diversity across South Australian viticultural landscapes

Merek M. Kesser, Timothy R. Cavagnaro, Roberta De Bei, Cassandra Collins

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1 Citation (Scopus)
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Throughout the last thirty years, major shifts in vineyard floor management have been observed. Challenges initially posed by intensive tillage included high rates of soil erosion and the degeneration of soil structure and soil organic matter, which lead viticulturists to depend more heavily on herbicide use as an effective weed control strategy. However, an increase in herbicide persistence and toxicity in water, soils, and grapevines, increasing resistance of common weeds; and pressure from consumers and regulators to reduce their use is directing a shift towards an overall reduction in herbicide usage. This has led to more frequent tillage to manage vegetation in vineyards, while in some instances, cultural practices including slashing and animal grazing are used solely or in conjunction. However, little is known about the holistic effects of these varying practices on vineyard soils and biodiversity across landscapes in Australia. Thus, to comparatively assess the environmental impacts of different floor management practices, soil health indicators and plant dynamics were seasonally measured in the mid-and under-vine rows at twenty-four vineyard sites and four native sites in the Barossa Valley, Eden Valley, and McLaren Vale, all located in South Australia, where different intensities of floor management were implemented. Vineyard sites were categorised based on the frequency of herbicide and/or tillage passes particularly in the under-vine area into Low (no annual management passes), Medium (one annual management pass), and High (two to four annual management passes) intensity groups. Findings revealed similarities in the vineyard mid-rows across the management intensities, yet the under-vine rows displayed many differences; in particular, there were more plant species, higher plant coverage, and greater plant biomass in the Low management intensity group. Furthermore, as management intensity decreased, the relative richness of ruderal plant species also decreased, giving way to a plant community mainly comprised of slow-growing, perennial Poaceae and Fabaceae species in the Low-intensity management group. These differences in plant dynamics drove a suite of soil responses including faster water infiltration, higher soil ammonium-N and total nitrogen, and a tendency of higher soil gravimetric water content at the time of sampling. These results suggest that after an initial period of establishing these more extensive vineyard floor management practices, low levels of soil disturbance in the under-vine rows may contribute positively to improving natural ecosystem synergy and functionality between soil and plants. Therefore, our findings lend insights into how the varying intensity of floor management practices, rather than differing management ideologies per se, across a viticultural landscape can be intrinsic supporters of agroecosystem resilience under South Australian conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-158
Number of pages20
JournalOeno One
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • biodiversity
  • management ideology
  • management intensity
  • soil health
  • vineyard floor management
  • viticultural landscape


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