|Title||Differential responses to defoliation frequency in Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) in tallgrass prairie: Implications for herbivory tolerance and avoidance|
|Publication Type||Journal Article|
|Year of Publication||2011|
|Authors||N’Guessan, M, Hartnett, DC|
|Keywords||bud banks, Compensation, demography, Grasses, Grazing, Herbivory|
Plant responses to herbivory are complex. In grasses, relative growth rate (RGR), seed, and vegetative reproduction, resource allocation, and architecture vary differentially and often nonlinearly with grazing intensity. High grazing tolerance may be achieved through compensatory photosynthesis and leaf growth, or through demographic mechanisms such as activation of a belowground dormant bud bank. This study assessed the relationship between grazing frequency and responses of Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem) in a tallgrass prairie, and examined the roles of tiller growth, reproduction, and bud (meristem) populations in its persistence under grazing. Genets were subjected to varying simulated grazing frequencies for a period of 2 years. Strong differential responses were observed among plant traits. RGR, biomass, and flowering showed strong nonlinear reductions in response to increasing clipping frequency, with no evidence of threshold effects. However, meristem density was unaffected, and plants maintained a large bud bank across all clipping treatments. Tiller natality decreased initially, but increased with >4 clippings, suggesting that declines in tiller RGR are partially offset by increasing tiller natality, and that variation in genet size is driven more by demography than by variation in individual tiller growth. Increased grazing frequency also resulted in differential activation of buds at different positions (emerging within vs. outside the subtending leaf sheath), explaining the shift to a more prostrate growth form observed in many caespitose grasses under persistent grazing. Thus, although this grass species lacks the capacity for compensatory foliage re-growth, the maintenance of a large dormant bud bank and the differential activation of buds in different positions contribute to its grazing tolerance and avoidance, respectively, and its long-term persistence in grazed grasslands.