Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Summary We report the results of a pot experiment that examined the effects of three ecologically important factors controlling plant growth rates in savanna grasslands: defoliation, soil nitrogen and soil water availability. The experiment was conducted in the Amboseli region in east Africa, and was designed to simulate natural conditions as far as possible, using local soils and a grass species that is heavily grazed by abundant large herbivores. Productivity by different plant components was reduced, stimulated or unchanged by defoliation, depending on specific watering and fertilization treatments. Total above-ground production was stimulated by defoliation and was maximized at moderate clipping intensities, but this was statistically significant only when plants were watered infrequently (every 8 days), and most important, periods between clipping events were extended (at least 24 days). Under these conditions, plant growth rates were limited by water availability at the time of clipping, and soil water conserved in clipped, compared to unclipped plants. Within a given fertilization treatment, whole-plant production was never stimulated by defoliation because root growth was unaffected or inhibited by clipping. However, when fertilization was coupled to defoliation, as they are in the field, whole-plant production by fertilized and moderately clipped plants exceeded production by infertilized, unclipped plants. Under this interpretation, maximum whole-plant production coincided with optimum conditions for herbivores (maximum nitrogen concentration in grass leaves) when watering was frequent, and plants were moderately defoliated. However, these conditions were not the same as those that maximized relative above-ground stimulation of growth (infrequent watering and clipping). The results indicate that above-ground grass production can be stimulated by grazing, and when that is likely to occur. However, the results emphasize that plant production responses to defoliation can vary widely, contigent upon a complex interaction of ecological factors.
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