Theme 1: Rangeland/Grassland Ecology--Oral Sessions

Description

Honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) encroachment has resulted in decreased C4 mid-grass production and increased C3 mid-grass in the Southern Great Plains of the US. Woody legumes have had similar effects in Africa, Australia, and South America. Prosopis initially facilitates Texas wintergrass (Nassella leucotricha) growth under canopies, in part because N-fixation by this woody legume enriches subcanopy soils, favoring C3 species. As stand density increases, Nassella extends into interspaces between trees as well. Here we report Nassella responses in several studies that either reduced Prosopis to indirectly impact Nassella or treated Nassella directly. In a 9-year study following mechanical top-kill of Prosopis, Nassella increased production for the first 3 years before slowly declining to pre-treatment levels. C4 mid-grass production increased, but was limited to only a third of its potential by drought and Prosopis regrowth. Following a root-killing treatment of Prosopis, Nassella production and total herbaceous production were greater in treated than untreated intercanopy and subcanopy microsites 1-yr post-treatment. Nassella and perennial grass production declined in treated microsites 2-yrs post-treatment; however, total herbaceous production remained greater in treated than untreated microsites due to increased annual forb production. Targeted grazing reduced Nassella cover and reproduction, but increased bare ground. Multiple-stemmed Prosopis with low-hanging limbs protected Nassella, thus limiting targeted grazing success when trees were not removed. The Prosopis/Nassella state appears to be resistant to change and may permanently limit transition back to C4 grassland unless Prosopis is root-killed, though our results indicate that even root-killing Prosopis does not guarantee an immediate increase in C4 production. If so, managing Prosopis height and canopy cover, C:N ratios of the vegetative layer, and grazing Nassella during peak production and nutritional quality may allow profitable production until anthropogenic or natural processes result in large scale mortality of the Prosopis overstory.

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C3 Perennial Grass Dominates Mixed C3/C4 Grasslands After Invasion by a C3 Woody Sprouter

Honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) encroachment has resulted in decreased C4 mid-grass production and increased C3 mid-grass in the Southern Great Plains of the US. Woody legumes have had similar effects in Africa, Australia, and South America. Prosopis initially facilitates Texas wintergrass (Nassella leucotricha) growth under canopies, in part because N-fixation by this woody legume enriches subcanopy soils, favoring C3 species. As stand density increases, Nassella extends into interspaces between trees as well. Here we report Nassella responses in several studies that either reduced Prosopis to indirectly impact Nassella or treated Nassella directly. In a 9-year study following mechanical top-kill of Prosopis, Nassella increased production for the first 3 years before slowly declining to pre-treatment levels. C4 mid-grass production increased, but was limited to only a third of its potential by drought and Prosopis regrowth. Following a root-killing treatment of Prosopis, Nassella production and total herbaceous production were greater in treated than untreated intercanopy and subcanopy microsites 1-yr post-treatment. Nassella and perennial grass production declined in treated microsites 2-yrs post-treatment; however, total herbaceous production remained greater in treated than untreated microsites due to increased annual forb production. Targeted grazing reduced Nassella cover and reproduction, but increased bare ground. Multiple-stemmed Prosopis with low-hanging limbs protected Nassella, thus limiting targeted grazing success when trees were not removed. The Prosopis/Nassella state appears to be resistant to change and may permanently limit transition back to C4 grassland unless Prosopis is root-killed, though our results indicate that even root-killing Prosopis does not guarantee an immediate increase in C4 production. If so, managing Prosopis height and canopy cover, C:N ratios of the vegetative layer, and grazing Nassella during peak production and nutritional quality may allow profitable production until anthropogenic or natural processes result in large scale mortality of the Prosopis overstory.