Perennial Biomass Grasses and the Mason–Dixon Line: Comparative Productivity across Latitudes in the Southern Great Plains
Understanding latitudinal adaptation of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) and Miscanthus (Miscanthus × giganteus J. M. Greef & Deuter ex Hodk. & Renvoize) to the southern Great Plains is key to maximizing productivity by matching each grass variety to its optimal production environment. The objectives of this study were: (1) to quantify latitudinal variation in production of representative upland switchgrass ecotypes (Blackwell, Cave-in-Rock, and Shawnee), lowland switchgrass ecotypes (Alamo, Kanlow), and Miscanthus in the southern half of the US Great Plains and (2) to investigate the environmental factors affecting yield variation. Leaf area and yield were measured on plots at 10 locations in Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. More cold winter days led to decreased subsequent Alamo switchgrass yields and increased subsequent upland switchgrass yields. More hot-growing season days led to decreased Kanlow and Miscanthus yields. Increased drought intensity also contributed to decreased Miscanthus yields. Alamo switchgrass had the greatest radiation use efficiency (RUE) with a mean of 4.3 g per megajoule intercepted PAR and water use efficiency (WUE) with a mean of 4.5 mg of dry weight per gram of water transpired. The representative RUE values for other varieties ranged from 67 to 80 % of Alamo’s RUE value and 67 to 87 % of Alamo’s WUE. These results will provide valuable inputs to process-based models to realistically simulate these important perennial grasses in this region and to assess the environmental impacts of production on water use and nutrient demands. In addition, it will also be useful for landowners and companies choosing the most productive perennial grasses for biofuel production.