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Plant function and evolutionary biology

Contribution of initial C and N reserves in Medicago sativa recovering from defoliation: impact of cutting height and residual leaf area

Frédéric Meuriot A , Marie-Laure Decau A , Annette Morvan-Bertrand A , Marie-Pascal Prud'Homme A , François Gastal B , Jean-Claude Simon A , Jeffrey J. Volenec C and Jean-Christophe Avice A D
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A UMR INRA / UCBN 950, Ecophysiologie Végétale, Agronomie and Nutritions NCS Institut de Biologie Fondamentale et Appliquée, Université, 14032 Caen Cedex, France.

B UEPF INRA, Unité d’Ecophysiologie des Plantes Fourragères, Domaine du Chêne, Route de Saintes, 86600 Lusignan, France.

C Department of Agronomy, Lilly Hall of Life Sciences, 915 W. State St, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2054, USA.

D Corresponding author. Email:

Functional Plant Biology 32(4) 321-334
Submitted: 24 August 2004  Accepted: 3 March 2005   Published: 26 April 2005


We studied the effects of stubble carbon / nitrogen (C / N) reserves or residual leaf area (RLA) on the contribution of taproot C / N reserves to shoot regrowth of Medicago sativa L. after cutting. The study assessed the effects of two cutting heights (6 and 15 cm), two RLAs (0 or 100%), and two initial C / N reserve levels (high N or low N) on forage production, nitrogen (N) distribution, and C / N reserve dynamics within stubble and taproot.

Alfalfa forage production was mainly affected by the initial taproot C / N reserve levels. However, stubble initial organic reserves (and to a lesser extent the RLA) were also of particular importance during early regrowth. The increase of cutting height led to increased stubble C / N supply to regrowing shoots, which partly offset the negative effect on forage production and on taproot C / N reserve depletion. Unlike taproot reserves, the positive contribution of stubble organic reserves to shoot C / N supply was effective for a single defoliation–regrowth cycle.

Alfalfa management strategies that increase cutting height (and RLA) during the penultimate harvest in autumn should be considered in cold regions with significant winter stress in order to improve alfalfa winter survival and persistence, as well as spring herbage regrowth.

Keywords: alfalfa, amino acids, leaf area, N partitioning, reserve mobilisation, starch, sucrose, vegetative storage protein.


We thank MP Henry and L Simon for their invaluable help in IRMS and C reserve pools analysis, respectively. The authors also wish to acknowledge Mr AJ Escobar-Gutiérrez for kind discussions throughout the experiment. This work was supported by a PhD grant for F Meuriot from INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, France) and the ‘Conseil Régional de Basse-Normandie’.


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