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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Plant Species Diversity, Ecosystem Function, and Pasture Management

Authors
item Sanderson, Matt
item Goslee, Sarah
item Soder, Kathy
item Skinner, Robert
item Tracy, Benjamin - UNIV OF ILLINOIS
item Deak, Atila - PENN STATE UNIV

Submitted to: Canadian Journal of Plant Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: February 28, 2007
Publication Date: July 20, 2007
Citation: Sanderson, M.A., Goslee, S.C., Soder, K.J., Skinner, R.H., Tracy, B.F., Deak, A. 2007. Plant species diversity, ecosystem function, and pasture management - A perspective. Canadian Journal of Plant Science. 87(3):479-487.

Interpretive Summary: Plant species diversity plays a role in the proper functioning of pastures. Using mixtures of several forage species in pastures, in some cases, can improve forage yield and reduce weed invasion. Not only the numbers of species, but also the kinds and amounts of different forage species along with their arrangement within and among pastures at the farm scale are critical features that must be considered. Managing for high forage species diversity within a pasture may not be the most appropriate plan in productive, stable environments where the principal function of interest is maximum forage production. Most pasturelands, however, vary greatly in soils, landscapes, and climate and often fulfill multiple functions for producers. It is in these situations where greater plant diversity managed at different scales may be most beneficial. At the applied level, tools are needed to select, combine, place, and monitor plant species in managed landscapes across the farm to fulfill the desired functions.

Technical Abstract: Grassland farmers face new challenges in pasture management including improving sustainability, reducing inputs of fertilizers and pesticides, and protecting soil resources. Managing plant diversity within and among pastures may be one tool to aid producers in meeting these new challenges. Pasture ecosystems can be highly diverse, with a complex array of organisms contributing to ecosystem functioning. Within the broad range of biodiversity in pastures, plant species diversity may be the most amenable to manipulation or management. Reported benefits of plant diversity in grasslands include: increased forage production; greater ecosystem stability in response to disturbance; and reduced invasion by exotic species such as weeds. Some view diversity as a sort of insurance policy where different species contribute in their own time or can take the place of species that fail from stress or mismanagement. Using mixtures of several forages in pastures, in some cases, can improve forage yield and reduce weed invasions. Pasture management for increased plant species diversity, however, is not simply a numbers game. The kinds and amounts of different forages along with their arrangement within and among pastures at the farm scale are critical features that must be considered. Tools must be developed to determine the appropriate species mixtures for varying soils, landscapes, climate and purposes to fulfill multiple functions for producers.

Last Modified: 11/25/2014
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