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Designed and naturalised sward response to management: I. Patterns of herbage production
- Belesky, David P., Halvorson, Jonathan J., Ruckle, Joyce M., Malinowski, Dariusz P., Mata‐Padrino, Domingo J.
- Annals of applied biology 2019 v.175 no.1 pp. 42-53
- botanical composition, dry matter accumulation, forbs, grasses, hay, highlands, legumes, livestock, nutritive value, ontogeny, pastures, sward, warm season, Appalachian region, United States
- Pastures in the Appalachian region of the United States comprise a mix of grasses, legumes and forbs that tend to differ in productivity within and among years. A high degree of spatial variability in hill‐land pasture creates microsite conditions that influence botanical composition of pasture. The variation in sward composition presents logistical challenges to livestock producers who rely on a dependable supply of herbage mass and nutritive value to meet production goals. Our objective was to determine if forage communities sown for specific functions, for example, superior dry matter productivity, resource patch exploitation or targeted seasonal production, adapted to changing growing conditions within and among years. Productivity of communities differed among years reflecting the cumulative influences of time, ontogenetic and environmental variations. Maximum productivity was influenced by the specific forage community and less so by simple clipping and fertiliser management. Naturalised swards clipped to emulate hay management tended to have sustained herbage productivity but lower nutritive value when compared to sown communities. Rankings of dry matter productivity of communities were similar for each year where bioactive composition, high productivity and warm season tended to produce the most, and stoloniferous‐rhizomatous and naturalised pasture the least. Regardless of initial sward composition, effective number of species as an index of diversity increased when frequently clipped swards were not fertilised, and when infrequently clipped swards were fertilised. Dry matter production patterns were not influenced by the effective number of species in any forage community suggesting that key species sustained productivity with volunteer species making lesser contribution to total productivity. The species composition of forage plant communities appears to be more important than clipping or fertiliser management practices as a means to sustain forage productivity.