The University of Arizona

Intermediate wheatgrass and Russian wildrye responses to defoliation and moisture.

J.R. Hendrickson, J.D. Berdahl


Perennial forage grasses in the Northern Great Plains are often grazed under water-limiting conditions. The effects of defoliation and soil moisture dynamics on herbage yield, tiller recruitment and number of crown positions for 2 perennial forage grasses were evaluated in a greenhouse experiment at Mandan, N.D. Intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrum intermedium (Host) Barkw. &D.R. Dewey] and Russian wildrye (Psathyrostachys juncea (Fisch.) Nevski] were grown at 75, 50, or 40% of field capacity and left as undefoliated controls or defoliated at 10-day intervals to an 8- or 4-cm stubble height. Cumulative herbage yield exhibited defoliation level by soil moisture (P = 0.0001) and species by defoliation (P = 0.007) interactions. Yield decreased with increasing defoliation intensity at 75 and 50% of field capacity, but at 40% of field capacity only the most intense defoliation level was significantly affected. Russian wildrye produced more herbage (1.97 g plant(-1)) than intermediate wheatgrass (1.36 g plant(-1)) under severe defoliation level. Increased defoliation intensity (P = 0.0001) but not water availability (P > 0.05) decreased tiller numbers. Pooled across all treatments, Russian wildrye produced 10 tillers per plant and intermediate wheatgrass produced 7 (P = 0.0001). This may partially explain Russian wildrye's greater grazing tolerance. The number of crown positions (potential axillary bud sites in the bottom 20mm of the plant) was similar between species suggesting that increased tiller numbers in Russian wildrye occurred because its axillary buds were more readily activated than intermediate wheatgrass. Moderate and severe defoliation reduced the number of crown positions on parent seedlings to only 62 and 50% of the number of crown positions of control seedlings, respectively. Water stress decreased (P = 0.004) number of crown positions at 40% of field capacity but only when crown positions of both parent and daughter tillers were pooled. In this experiment, defoliation had a greater effect than water stress. Moisture level mainly affected tiller size not numbers. The interaction between defoliation and water stress should be examined in field studies to foster improved management of these 2 grasses.



axillary buds;grazing tolerance;buds;Elytrigia intermedia subsp. intermedia;Psathyrostachys juncea;tolerance;species differences;tillering;tillers;biomass production;introduced species;defoliation;soil water;water stress

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