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Ecología austral

On-line version ISSN 1667-782X


ROLHAUSER, Andrés G et al. Effects of mowing frequency and nitrogen fertilization on the structure of a Festuca arundinacea Schreb. population. Ecol. austral [online]. 2007, vol.17, n.1, pp.89-98. ISSN 1667-782X.

Structure and dynamics of plant populations in pastoral systems are mainly controlled by inter and intraspecific competition and herbivory within the constraints imposed by soil characteristics and climate. Defoliations caused by herbivores have a direct impact on plant populations, but also an indirect effect through changes in the intensity of competition. We evaluated the effects of mechanic defoliations and nitrogen fertilization on the structure of a Festuca arundinacea Schreb. population in a mixed pasture, and discussed the effects of these two agronomic tools on the intensity of intraspecific competition. A four-block factorial experiment combining two regimes of mowing frequency (1 and 4 mowings/year) and two levels of nitrogen fertilization (0 and 50 kg N/ha/year), was installed on a mixed pasture composed of F. arundinacea and Lotus glaber Mill. Data was obtained from eight subplots randomly arranged inside each plot. High frequency mowed plots had higher density and lower size asymmetry than the low frequency ones, whereas total cover did not differ between treatments. On the contrary, nitrogen fertilization diminished population density, increased size asymmetry and augmented total cover. Overall, there was a negative association between log10 mean size and log10 density; the estimated slope of the linear relation was closer to -3/2 in fertilized than in nonfertilized plots. Finally, crowding decreased significantly with plant size. These results suggest that the dynamics of F. arundinacea in the experimental plots were strongly controlled by intraspecific competition when nitrogen availability was high and mowing frequency was low. Lack of fertilization and frequent mows would limit individual growth and hence intensity of competition. Furthermore, the intensity of competition seems to have been more closely related to nitrogen availability than to mowing frequency. Additional data showed that the abundance of companion species was precluded in fertilized plots and in low frequency mowed plots, suggesting that F. arundinacea is a highly competitive species, which maximizes vegetative growth in productive, relatively undisturbed conditions. Overall, our results indicate that resource supply could intensify plant competition instead of relax it.

Keywords : Intraspecific competition; Disturbance; Population dynamics; Self-thinning; Pastoral systems; Pasture; Tall fescue.

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