Changes in plant population density, composition and sward structure of a hill pasture during a pastoral fallow
Appropriate pre-sowing methods for the introduction of improved forage legume and grass germplasm are an important issue for hill pasture improvement in New Zealand. A pastoral fallow, which involves not defoliating pasture for a period generally from late spring/early summer to autumn, could create a potentially favourable environment for introducing improved germplasm. A field study was conducted on two aspects (shady and sunny) of moist, low-fertility hill country with or without added fertilizer (phosphorus and sulphur) in the southern North Island of New Zealand, to investigate the changes in plant population density and sward structure during a full or partial pastoral fallow, compared with a rotationally grazed pasture. A 7-month (October to May) pastoral fallow dramatically decreased the densities of grass tillers by 72% (P < 0·01), white clover (Trifolium repens L.) growing points by 87% (P < 0·01) and other species by 87% (P < 0·05). The decline in tiller density by pastoral fallow was enhanced on the shady aspect. Fertilizer application increased white clover growing-point density on the shady aspect (P < 0·05) and grass tiller density on the sunny aspect (P < 0·05). Decreased plant density during pastoral fallowing was attributed to aboveground biomass accumulation, which altered sward structure, leading to interplant competition and mortality by self-thinning and completion of the life cycle of some matured plants. The plant size-density relationship during pastoral fallowing in this mixed-species sward followed the serf-thinning rule, particularly when the calculation was based on all plant species rather than grass alone. There was no significant (P > 0·05) difference in final plant population density between the 7-month pastoral fallow and a shorter term (October to December) pastoral fallow. It is concluded that pastoral fallowing effectively reduced the plant population density and altered sward structure of a hill pasture. Such changes create a more favourable environment for the introduction of improved forage species.
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