Drought-induced shifts in plants traits, yields and nutritive value under realistic grazing and mowing managements in a mountain grassland
Extreme drought events can dramatically impact grassland ecosystems, causing potential loss of forage production for livestock in temperate grasslands. However, knowledge of drought effects on forage production, nutritive value and plant community stability in the real context of farming management is scarce. For this purpose, the effect of a simulated summer drought was studied under two realistic management types on a semi-natural grassland in the Swiss Jura mountains. The first management ("grazing") consisted in six consecutive utilizations by animals over the growing season, representing a rotational grazing system as regionally conducted. The second management ("mowing") consisted of three harvests, corresponding to the usual mowing frequency of hay meadows. In both managements, drought caused minor short-term modifications of species composition and almost no persistent effects were observed. Besides, important short-term changes were observed in community weighted mean of several key functional traits, reflecting a strong decline in community growth during the drought followed by a partial recovery two months later. Forage yields, and to a lesser extent its nutritive value, thus declined during the drought period. Both were still affected in the following months, but had recovered in spring of the following year. Forage loss was twofold higher in the grazing management, but recovery as well as nutritive value was slightly improved in this management. The results suggest that rotational grazing can amplify negative drought impacts, compared to traditional mowing, and highlight the need to adapt such management in dry years. They also demonstrate that, even under a fairly intensive management, resilience of such mountain grasslands after one extreme drought event can be expected to be high, with no persistent changes in species and trait compositions. (C) 2015 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.