Root production in a subtropical pasture is mediated by cultivar identity and defoliation severity

Chris H. Wilson, Joao M. Vendramini, Lynn E. Sollenberger, S. Luke Flory

Abstract


Grasslands occupy significant land area and account for a large proportion of the global soil carbon stocks, yet the direct effects of grazing and genotypic composition on relationships between shoot and root production are poorly resolved. This lack of understanding hinders the development of models for predicting root production in managed grasslands, a critical variable for determining soil carbon stocks. We quantified the effects of season-long defoliation treatments on both shoot and root production across 4 cultivars of a widely planted pasture grass species (Paspalum notatum Flüggé) in a common garden setting in South Florida, USA. We found that infrequently applied (4 weekly) severe defoliation (to 5 cm) substantially enhanced shoot production for all cultivars, while severe defoliation reduced root production across cultivars, regardless of frequency. Overall, there was no significant relationship between shoot and root production. Our results showed that above-ground and below-ground productivity are only weakly coupled, suggesting caution against use of simple above-ground proxies to predict variations in root production in grasslands. More broadly, our results demonstrated that improved modeling and management of grasslands for below-ground ecosystem services, including soil carbon sequestration/stocks, must account for intraspecific genetic variation and responses to defoliation management.


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17138/tgft(9)144-158

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