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ARS Home » Northeast Area » University Park, Pennsylvania » Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #209884

Title: Plant Species Diversity and Distribution in Pastures of the Northeastern USA

item Goslee, Sarah
item Sanderson, Matt
item Gonet, Jeffery

Submitted to: American Forage and Grassland Council Conference Proceedings
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/10/2007
Publication Date: 6/23/2007
Citation: Goslee, S.C., Sanderson, M.A., Gonet, J.M. 2007. Plant Species Diversity and Distribution in Pastures of the Northeastern USA. American Forage and Grassland Council Conference Proceedings. p. 29.

Interpretive Summary: An interpretive summary is not required.

Technical Abstract: Grazed pastures in the northeastern United contain far more than planted forage species. These species may contribute to forage production, but they may also detract from forage production or palatability. As the first step toward identifying the role of plant diversity in forage systems, we collected data on vegetation, topography and soils for 130 pastures on 44 farms between 1998-2005. Farms were located across the Northeast, from Maryland to Maine, and all were grazed. We found 310 identifiable plant species. Bluegrass, white clover, orchardgrass, tall fescue and dandelion were the most common species. Most of the species found were rare, and nearly 25% were found only once. The average pasture contained 32 species, with 9-73 species per quarter-acre plot. Most of the species found in pastures are not usually considered to be forage species. Forage species richness was much less variable, with an average of 8 species and a range of 3-12 species per plot. Forage species made up more than 75% of the plant cover in over half of the pastures sampled. The average pasture had 6% bare ground, 67% grass cover, 21% legume cover and 23% forb cover (total greater than 100% because species overlap within the sward). We used stepwise regression to identify the variables related to important characteristics of the pasture plant community, including number of species and total plant cover, and number and cover of grasses, legumes, forbs and forage species. Few patterns were evident. Latitude and longitude were important. Slope and elevation were sometimes important, but aspect was not. Soil texture was important, but soil organic matter and nutrient availability were not. Pasture plant communities are far more diverse than might be expected, but diversity and composition appear to be influenced more by management than by site factors.