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Intermittent Growing Season Defoliation Variably Impacts Accumulated Herbage Productivity in Mixed Grass Prairie☆
- Bork, E.W., Broadbent, T.S., Willms, W.D.
- Rangeland ecology & management 2017 v.70 no.3 pp. 307-315
- Bouteloua gracilis, Pascopyrum smithii, defoliation, environmental factors, forage, forage yield, forbs, graminoids, grasses, growing season, highlands, lowlands, mixed-grass prairies, rain, temporal variation
- To evaluate mechanisms by which defoliation alters grassland productivity, we examined mixed grass prairie herbage yields under recurring treatments that included hand-clipping of plots over five growing seasons at high intensity and low frequency (HILF), low intensity and high frequency (LIHF), high intensity and high frequency (HIHF), or the end of the growing season (deferred control), combined with water treatments of ambient rainfall or water addition. The study was repeated in a drier upland and mesic lowland range site. Yield was assessed as annual accumulated herbage production and, for HILF and control treatments in 2012 (year 3), evaluated separately for forbs and major graminoids. Temporal changes in the proportional yield during the growing season were also examined for the HILF and HIHF treatments. Moisture addition increased accumulated herbage, especially in the upland, and exacerbated differences among defoliation effects in select years. Productivity was greatest in the deferred controls, suggesting no treatment led to overcompensation, even with moisture addition. Among growing season treatments, yields under HILF exceeded that of the HIHF in 6 of 10 different combinations of site and year, particularly early in the study and under high moisture. Observed herbage yields suggest deferred patches of grassland may boost productivity and limit the ability of HILF defoliation to increase production, a pattern magnified by a reduction in Pascopyrum smithii in lowlands before mid-July. Accumulated herbage yield did respond favorably to HILF defoliation in uplands due to increased yields of Bouteloua gracilis (Willd. ex Kunth) Lag. ex Griffiths. Overall, these results suggest that any growing season defoliation reduces yields, although where defoliation is necessary at that time, production may be more likely to be maintained under HILF defoliation. More studies examining long-term growth responses to defoliation that include variation in vegetation types, environmental conditions, and defoliation regime are warranted.