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Phenology of perennial, native grass, belowground axillary buds in the northern mixed‐grass prairie

Morgan L. Russell, Lance T. Vermeire, Amy C. Ganguli, John R. Hendrickson
American journal of botany 2017 v.104 no.6 pp. 915-923
Bouteloua gracilis, C3 plants, C4 plants, Hesperostipa comata, Pascopyrum smithii, asexual reproduction, buds, dormancy, ecotones, grasses, grasslands, growing season, indigenous species, mortality, perennials, phenology, plant communities, soil temperature, soil water, winter, Great Plains region
PREMISE OF THE STUDY: Vegetative reproduction from belowground bud banks is the primary driver of grassland systems. Despite the importance of bud banks, the timing of recruitment and the crucial link between formation and maintenance is unknown. METHODS: We assessed patterns of belowground bud development, dormancy, and mortality associated with three perennial native grasses in the northern Great Plains. Temperature and soil moisture were measured below the soil surface to determine relationships with belowground bud development. KEY RESULTS: Blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) generated more buds over winter that remained dormant; whereas, C₃ species needle‐and‐thread (Hesperostipa comata) and western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii), maintained limited dormant buds throughout winter. Soil temperature was a good predictor for C₄ species bud production; whereas, soil moisture was a reliable predictor for C₃ buds. Distinct differences existed between C₄ species blue grama and C₃ species needle‐and‐thread, whereas C₃ species western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii) was intermediate, indicating there is likely a species‐specific continuum between the C₃ and C₄ extremes rather than a stark difference. CONCLUSIONS: The ability to predict belowground bud development is a novel insight to native perennial grasses. Native grass species’ strategies and adaptability regarding belowground bud bank size and bud phenology are important factors optimizing tiller recruitment given the variable growing conditions. Patterns of bud dormancy and development will provide insight to the underlying mechanisms by which management practices and fluctuations in precipitation amount and growing season length can alter mixed‐grass prairie plant community dynamics.