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Grazing abandonment delays the effect of temperature on aboveground net primary production in Atlantic grasslands

Aldezabal, Arantza, Odriozola, Iñaki, García-Baquero, Gonzalo
Rangeland ecology & management 2019
air temperature, beef cattle, botanical composition, climate, dairy sheep, databases, graminoids, grasslands, grazing, herbivores, horses, meteorological data, net primary productivity, phenology, rain, soil, Iberian Peninsula
We used an Atlantic grassland system on the Iberian Peninsula to ascertain whether monthly climate variability explains variation in monthly aboveground net primary production (ANPP) and to test whether climate-ANPP relationships depend on grazing regime. In 2005, large herbivores (beef cattle, dairy sheep, and horses) were excluded through fencing three 2500 m2 plots, each located in a different location; adjacent grazed plots of equal size were established. Aboveground net primary production was measured monthly during the next three growing periods (2006–2008) and locally measured climate data were obtained from a public database. Because between-site variation in annual ANPP was not significant, we used data averaged across sites to test for the effect of monthly climate variability on monthly ANPP by means of dynamic regression. Enhanced ANPP was found after grazing abandonment, probably due to the sudden dominance of productive graminoids. Variation in monthly rainfall did not contribute to explain monthly ANPP under grazing or grazing exclusion. Simultaneous mean monthly air temperature explained monthly ANPP under grazing. By contrast, the effect of temperature on ANPP under grazing exclusion was delayed by one month. We suggest that this delay can be explained by the development of a thick organic layer (litter) that insulated the soil in the grazing exclusion plots. However, changes in floristic composition and, consequently, in phenology might also have contributed to the differential response.