African Journal of Range and Forage Science

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Shoot and root biomass allocation and competitive hierarchies of four South African grass species on light, soil resources and cutting gradients

HM Ghebrehiwot, RWS Fynn, CD Morris, KP Kirkman


We examined the competitive ability and response to light (shaded or unshaded), nutrients (50% Hoaglands solution or tap water), water (frequent or infrequent watering) and cutting (cut or uncut) of four grass species that differ in their traits, habitat preferences and responses to management practices in KwaZulu-Natal. All species produced the greatest biomass in high-nutrient high-water treatments. Short to medium-height grass species, such as Themeda triandra and Aristida junciformis, produced nearly double the biomass of taller species such as Hyparrhenia hirta and Eragrostis curvula in the low-nutrient treatments, with the reverse being true in the high-nutrient treatments. Themeda triandra and A. junciformis produced the greatest root biomass both in the low- and high-nutrient treatments. The shorter species produced relatively greater root than shoot mass, with the reverse being true of the taller species. Tall species did not produce relatively less, when cut, or relatively more, when shaded, than the shorter species. However, A. junciformis and E. curvula were more shade-tolerant than the other species, suggesting that their increase in abundance with infrequent fire is due to the shading by litter in unburnt grassland. The competitive hierarchy among species reversed between low- and high-nutrient treatments, with A. junciformis and H. hirta having the greatest competitive effect on T. triandra in low- and high-nutrient treatments, respectively. These results contribute to an understanding of species distributions on fertility and burning gradients.

Keywords: competitive ability, grass traits, habitat fertility, shoot/root ratio, trade-offs

African Journal of Range & Forage Science 2006, 23(2):
AJOL African Journals Online