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Persistence and colonization of gaps in sown swards of grass and clover under different sward managements

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The effects of extensive sward management and patch size on the persistence and colonization of gaps in sown swards was examined by creating gaps of five different sizes (2ยท3, 7, 10, 14 and 19 cm in diameter) in four different sward treatments: a fertilized sward grazed to 4 cm, i.e. relatively intensive management, and three extensively managed unfertilized swards, which were not grazed or grazed to 4 cm or 8 cm. The swards were originally sown with ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) and white clover (Trifolium repens L.), but had developed differences in species composition as a result of the management treatments imposed 2 years before and during the experiment. Light quality measurements, i.e. red-far red (R/FR) ratio, were used to determine when the light environment in the gaps no longer differed from that in control, uncut patches and this was used as an estimate of gap persistence. Persistence of gaps depended on both sward management and gap size. Gaps disappeared most rapidly in the ungrazed sward and fertilized 4-cm sward, and most slowly in the unfertilized 8-cm sward. Small gaps persisted for up to 2 weeks in all but 8-cm swards, whereas larger gaps were estimated to persist for up to 20–25 weeks in unfertilized, grazed swards. There was no evidence that the number of grass or dicotyledonous species increased in the gaps compared with the control areas. There were significant positive linear relationships between the vegetation that developed in gaps and that in the control, uncut patches, reflecting the different species composition of the established sward of the grazed (grass-dominant) and ungrazed (Ranunculus repens-dominant) treatments. For total grass dry matter and tiller numbers, as well as L. perenne tiller numbers, there was a small, but significant, effect of both patch size and sward management on the slopes of the regressions between the controls and gaps. The results are discussed in relation to the potential for species composition of sown swards to change as a result of gap creation.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen, UK

Publication date: 1997-06-01

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