Variation in grazing tolerance among three tallgrass prairie plant species

TitleVariation in grazing tolerance among three tallgrass prairie plant species
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2002
AuthorsDamhoureyeh, SA, Hartnett, DC
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Pagination1634 -1643
Accession NumberKNZ00828
KeywordsAmbrosia ludoviciana, Aster ericoides, compensatory growth, forbs, Grasses, grazing tolerance, Sorghastrum nutans, tallgrass prairie

Three tallgrass prairie plant species, two common perennial forbs (Artemisia ludoviciana and Aster ericoides [Asteraceae]) and a dominant C4 perennial grass (Sorghastrum nutans) were studied under field and greenhouse conditions to evaluate interspecific variation in grazing tolerance (compensatory growth capacity). Adaptation to ungulate grazing was also assessed by comparing defoliation responses of plants from populations with a 25-yr history of no grazing or moderate ungulate grazing. Under field conditions, all three species showed significant reductions in shoot relative growth rates (RGR), biomass, and reproduction with defoliation. In the two forbs, clipping resulted in negative shoot RGR and reductions in both number and length of shoot branches per ramet. Sorghastrum nutans maintained positive RGR under defoliation due to a compensatory increase in leaf production. Defoliation reduced rhizome production in A. ericoides and S. nutans, but not in A. ludoviciana. Clipping significantly reduced sexual reproductive allocation in all three species, although S. nutans showed a smaller reduction than the forbs. All three species showed similar responses to defoliation in burned and unburned sites. Under greenhouse conditions, a similar clipping regimen resulted in smaller reductions in growth and reproduction than those observed in the field. For all three species, the grazing tolerance indices calculated under natural field conditions were significantly lower than those estimated from greenhouse-grown plants, and the interspecific patterns of grazing tolerance were different. Aster ericoides exhibited the highest overall defoliation tolerance under greenhouse conditions, followed by S. nutans. Artemisia ludoviciana, the only study species that is typically not grazed by ungulates in the field, showed the lowest grazing tolerance. In the field experiment S. nutans showed the highest grazing tolerance and the two forbs had similar low tolerance indices. These patterns indicate that, despite high compensatory growth potential, limited resource availability and competition in the field significantly reduce the degree of compensation and alter interspecific differences in grazing tolerance among prairie plants. In all three species, defoliation suppressed sexual reproduction more than growth or vegetative reproduction. Significant interactions between plant responses to defoliation and site of origin (historically grazed or ungrazed sites) for some response variables (root/shoot ratios, rhizome bud initiation, and reproductive allocation) indicated some degree of population differentiation and genetic adaptation in response to a relatively short history of ungulate grazing pressure. The results of this study indicate that patterns of grazing tolerance in tallgrass prairie are both genetically based and also environmentally dependent.