Journal Article

Functional traits as indicators of fodder provision over a short time scale in species-rich grasslands

Pauline Ansquer, Michel Duru, Jean Pierre Theau and Pablo Cruz

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 103, issue 1, pages 117-126
Published in print January 2009 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online October 2008 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcn215
Functional traits as indicators of fodder provision over a short time scale in species-rich grasslands

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry

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Background and Aims

Fodder provision in species-rich grasslands, i.e. herbage growth, proportion of leaf, and leaf and stem digestibility, is difficult to predict for short periods of time, such as between two defoliations or less. The value of two methods based on plant traits for evaluating these agronomic properties was examined.

Methods

One method is based on plant trait measurements on the plant community (leaf dry matter content, plant height, flowering date); the other is on vegetation composition expressed as plant functional types (acquisitive versus conservative PFTs) established by measuring leaf dry matter content on pure grass stands. The experiment consisted of 18 fields with three different defoliation regimes (combinations of cutting and grazing) and two levels of fertilization. To establish a growth curve over the first growth cycle, herbage was sampled about 10 times in spring.

Key Results

Coefficients of correlation between agronomic properties of the vegetation and its functional composition were higher when the latter was assessed through PFT and an indicator of the plant nutrient status (Ni) instead of measured plant traits. The date at which the ceiling yield occurred for the standing herbage mass or only the leaf component, which varied by up to 500 degree-days between treatments, and the leaf proportion, depended entirely on the PFT, and largely so for the leaf digestibility. The standing herbage mass at the time of ceiling yield depended only on Ni, or mainly so in the case of the daily herbage growth rate. Similar plant digestibility between plant communities was found at flowering time, although there were big differences in PFT composition. The shape of the growth curve was flatter when there was great functional diversity in the plant community.

Conclusions

The PFT composition and the Ni were more reliable than the plant functional traits measured in the field for evaluating herbage growth pattern and digestibility in spring.

Keywords: Grass; fertilization; digestibility; ceiling yield; growth; botanical composition; functional diversity

Journal Article.  7000 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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