Increasing plant species diversity could enhance forage yield, resistance to weed invasion, and soil C accumulation in grazed pastures. Three forage mixtures (2, 3, or 11 species) were established on a farm in eastern Pennsylvania and grazed by dairy heifers or managed under a three-cut hay system from 1999 to 2002. Net canopy photosynthesis was measured from early April to early October 2000 to 2002. Root distribution to a depth of 60 cm was measured in mid-September each year, and soil C and N concentrations to a 15-cm depth were determined in May 1999 and September 2002. The 11-species mixture yielded 43% more forage dry matter than the two-species mixture. This difference was mainly due to the inclusion of a few highly productive forage species in the 11-species mixture. Canopy photosynthesis did not differ among mixtures in the spring, but in the summer was 50% greater in the 3- and 11-species mixtures than the two-species mixture. The 11-species mixture also had 30 to 62% greater root biomass than the other two mixtures and a greater proportion of roots in deeper soil layers. Soil C either remained unchanged or decreased, depending on species composition, with the greatest decrease occurring in the 11-species mixture. No relationship existed between changes in soil C concentration and either canopy photosynthesis or above- and below-ground productivity. Deeper rooting could reduce drought stress by increasing access to deep soil moisture. Selecting forage mixtures to include specific desirable traits, such as greater rooting depth, could result in improved pasture performance.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Agronomy and Crop Science