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Responses of a Remnant California Native Bunchgrass Population to Grazing, Burning and Climatic Variation


This study examined the interactive effects of grazing intensity and burning on a remnant population of the California native bunchgrass Nassella pulchra. We measured growth, reproduction and mortality of permanently marked bunchgrasses and measured bunchgrass seedling recruitment and density in permanent quadrats. We burned half of the treatment plots in late spring 1998. Grazing treatments were implemented in 1998, 1999 and 2000 at four different intensities: ungrazed, light rotational grazing (31% average biomass removal), heavy rotational grazing (42% average biomass removal), and continuously grazed. Both burning and grazing affected the bunchgrass population. Bunchgrass mortality was 10% higher in burned vs. unburned plots but was not significantly different among grazing treatments. Seedling density was 100% higher in burned vs. unburned plots 2 years after the burn, however seedling densities never attained pre-burn levels. Seedling densities did not differ significantly among grazing treatments, but grazing reduced the height and reproduction of the mature bunchgrasses. Adult bunchgrass density did not differ significantly in any of the treatments but experienced a five-fold decrease over the 4 years of the experiment. Although the continuous grazing treatment reduced the number of culms produced per plant by 75% from the baseline year, the effect on culm production in the continuous grazing treatment was not consistently greater than the rotational grazing treatments. The interaction of grazing and burning had no significant impacts on the N. pulchra populations except on the diameter of adult bunchgrasses which was highest in the lightly grazed, unburned treatments 2 years following the burn. All response variables except bunchgrass height followed a similar pattern in time over the 4 years of the experiment regardless of treatment, peaking in 1998 and then declining in 1999 and 2000. We believe the above average rainfall and below average temperatures experienced late in the growing season in 1998 provided conditions that favored the native bunchgrasses. Overall, we found few interactive effects of grazing and burning but the separate treatments did affect bunchgrass growth, reproduction and mortality, and these effects were modulated by the ubiquitous effects of climatic fluctuations.

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Correspondence to Jaymee T. Marty.

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Marty, J.T., Collinge, S.K. & Rice, K.J. Responses of a Remnant California Native Bunchgrass Population to Grazing, Burning and Climatic Variation. Plant Ecol 181, 101–112 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-005-3797-z

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  • Burning
  • California
  • Climatic variation
  • Grasslands
  • Grazing
  • Nassella pulchra
  • Purple needlegrass