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The response to moisture and defoliation stresses, and traits for resilience of perennial grasses on the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia

S. P. Boschma, M. J. Hill, J. M. Scott and G. G. Rapp

Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 54(9) 903 - 916
Published: 19 September 2003


A field experiment was conducted to study the effects of defoliation and moisture stresses on perennial pasture grasses and to identify traits associated with their resilience. The experiment, conducted near Armidale on the Northern Tablelands of NSW, studied 4 introduced perennial grass species (Phalaris aquatica, Festuca arundinacea, Dactylis glomerata, and Lolium perenne) and 2 native grass species (Microlaena stipoides and Austrodanthonia richardsonii) subjected to 3 moisture regimes (non-stress moisture, moderate drought, and severe drought) and 2 defoliation intensities (severe and moderate). Basal area, herbage mass, phenological growth stage, nitrogen concentration, root mass, and rooting depth were compared over 2 independent 6-month periods: spring–summer (1 September 1994–28 February 1995) and summer–autumn (1 December 1994–31 May 1995). Multiple regression was used to determine which traits were important for determining plant resilience.

The differences between species and their respective responses were evident in the traits measured. In general, basal area tended to increase over summer and show little change during autumn. Severe defoliation stimulated plant growth, resulting in higher harvested herbage mass than from those moderately defoliated. Reproductive development was suppressed by severe drought and reduced by moderate drought. Severe defoliation suppressed flowering of Dactylis and Lolium at both drought intensities, compared with moderate defoliation. Phalaris, Festuca, and Austrodanthonia were the deepest rooting species during spring–summer, and Dactylis the shallowest. All species had similar rooting depths during summer–autumn, with those under severe and moderate drought having the deepest and shallowest rooting, respectively.

Carbohydrate reserves and basal area were important traits for determining plant resilience during spring–summer. During summer–autumn, maintaining basal area and plant biomass through moderate grazing was important for resilience.

Keywords: rain-out shelter, persistence.

© CSIRO 2003

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