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Simple traits do not predict grazing response in Australian dry shrublands and woodlands

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Summary

• Plant species composition and species response to grazing are fundamental to the management of grazing lands. Reliable prediction of grazing responses from species’ traits would be a major step forward in generalizing knowledge and management beyond the locality. Recently results have been presented showing that plant species’ responses to grazing in subhumid grasslands in Argentina and Israel could be predicted from simple traits: height, leaf size, life history and specific leaf area (SLA). This study assessed whether those relationships between traits and grazing responses hold for Australian semi-arid and arid shrublands and woodlands.

• Eleven lists of grazing responses from five published grazing studies were matched with a plant trait data set. Trait distributions were compared between response groups pooled across studies. Relationships between traits and grazing response were also assessed, both within and across studies, using meta-analysis.

• Overall there was little evidence for predictability of grazing responses with simple traits in the semi-arid and arid shrublands and woodlands. There were relationships between grazing response and life history and growth form, and some weak evidence for grazing increasers having high SLA.

Synthesis and applications. It was concluded that prediction of grazing responses with simple traits is less clear in semi-arid and arid rangelands, which are characterized by openness at ground level and high diversity of growth forms, compared with subhumid grasslands that have structurally simple, continuous swards. The finding that species’ traits may have differing predictive capacity for grazing responses in different situations means that we need more empirical studies in different situations. The most important contrasts between situations for investigation are likely to be on axes of rainfall/productivity and evolutionary history of grazing. Journal of Applied Ecology (2004) 41, 22–31
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Keywords: SLA; ecological generalization; height; life history; plant functional types; range condition; seed mass; vegetation change

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2004

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