Maximization of aboveground grassland production: the role of defoliation frequency, intensity and history

TitleMaximization of aboveground grassland production: the role of defoliation frequency, intensity and history
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1993
AuthorsTurner, CL, Seastedt, TR, Dyer, MI
JournalEcological Applications
Pagination175 -186
Accession NumberKNZ00429

Production of tallgrass prairie vegetation was measured on experimental plots in which defoliation intensity and frequency were manipulated by mowing and using movable exclosures on areas chronically grazed by cattle. Defoliation history largely controlled whether or not defoliated plants overcompensated (exhibited enhanced production compared to undefoliated controls) for tissue removal. Plants on chronically grazed sites only compensated for foliage removed by grazers. Production on plots mowed prior to the year of measurement was similar to that on chronically grazed sites, while previously unmowed plots exhibited substantial aboveground overcompensation. Aboveground production was maximized by the most frequent mowing treatment and by intermediate mowing heights. Nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations and amounts in aboveground tissues were increased by mowing and grazing. Current mowing regime was more important than mowing history in determining nitrogen concentrations except very early in the growing season. Effects of grazing and mowing on belowground biomass were inconsistent, but frequent mowing appeared to limit accumulation of belowground N reserves and biomass. In North American grasslands, overcompensation is a nonequilibrium plant response to grazing. Photosynthate that would be stored as reserves and used for root growth and flower and seed production instead is used to replace lost leaf area, thereby resulting in higher foliage productivity. However, under chronic grazing or mowing, vegetation is prevented from maintaining high nutrient and water uptake capacity (large root biomass) and accumulating reserves that allow overcompensation responses.