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Fire and Nitrogen Addition Increase Forage Quality of Aristida purpurea

N.A. Dufek, L.T. Vermeire, R.C. Waterman, A.C. Ganguli
Rangeland ecology & management 2014 v.67 no.3 pp. 298-306
Aristida purpurea, acid detergent fiber, autumn, crude protein, disturbed soils, energy, fermentation, fertilizer rates, grazing, growing season, in vitro digestibility, livestock, neutral detergent fiber, nitrogen, nitrogen fertilizers, nutrients, organic matter, prescribed burning, rumen fermentation, silica, spring, summer, urea, Montana
Purple threeawn (Aristida purpurea Nutt.) is a native perennial bunchgrass with limited forage value that dominates sites with disturbed soils and persists with repeated severe grazing. Fire and nitrogen addition have been used to reduce threeawn and can increase grazing utilization of threeawn by livestock. We evaluated effects of fire, spring urea addition, and phenological stage on purple threeawn forage quality 1 yr postfire on two similar sites in southeastern Montana during the 2011 (site 1) and 2012 (site 2) growing seasons. Fire (no fire, summer fire, fall fire) and rate of nitrogen addition (0, 46, 80 kg N·ha-1) were arranged in a completely randomized, fully factorial design. Samples were collected at five phenological stages throughout each growing season. Forage quality was assessed using nutrient analyses of crude protein (CP), net energy (NEm), and total digestible nutrients; antiquality analyses of neutral detergent fiber (NDF), acid detergent fiber, and silica; in vitro fermentation for organic matter disappearance (IVOMD) and NDF disappearance; and gas production (asymptotic [maximum] gas production, fractional rate of gas production, lag time, and average fermentation rate). In vegetative stages, summer and fall fire increased CP from 6.2% to 12.1% and 13.0%, respectively, and NDF decreased from 72.1% to 69.4% and 68.2%, respectively. Summer and fall fire reduce silica content from 7.0% to 4.1% and 4.3%, respectively. Purple threeawn IVOMD increased by 14.0% and 13.0% following summer and fall fire, respectively, compared to nonburned plots. Nitrogen addition increased CP from 7.5% to 8.0% and 8.4%, respectively, with 46% and 80 kg N·ha-1, respectively. In vitro fermentation and gas production variables did not change due to nitrogen addition. Fire generally improved purple threeawn forage quality to a greater extent than did nitrogen addition. Results indicate fire can potentially improve the suitability of purple threeawn as a forage species.