The University of Arizona

Response of C3 and C4 grasses to supplemental summer precipitation.

R.H. Skinner, J.D. Hanson, G.L. Hutchinson, G.E. Schuman


Rangeland plant productivity and species composition are affected by moisture availability and grazing intensity. We examined warm- and cool-season grass productivity and relative distribution on grazed and ungrazed sites, receiving either natural precipitation or precipitation plus limited supplemental irrigation. The amount of additional water varied depending on rainfall during the previous week and was intended to shorten the interval between precipitation events and provide a more uniform seasonal moisture distribution. Irrigation treatments were superimposed in 1997 and 1998 on paddocks that had not been grazed for about 55 years or continuously stocked during the growing season for 15 years. Cool-season grasses dominated the ungrazed plots, comprising about 90% of the total biomass. In the grazed plots, the proportion of C3 grasses ranged from 30 to 81%. The proportion of C3 grasses in the grazed treatment decreased from spring to fall and decreased with supplemental irrigation. Root biomass was greater and more concentrated near the soil surface in the grazed compared with the ungrazed plots. Irrigation had no effect on root biomass in the grazed plots while irrigation reduced total root biomass and root biomass in the top 5 cm of the soil profile in the ungrazed plots. Irrigation increased total aboveground biomass only at the August 1997 harvest. Aboveground biomass of warm-season grasses, however, increased under irrigation in the grazed plots in August and November 1997 and August 1998. These increases, however, were offset by a reduction in cool-season grasses in November 1997 and August 1998. Warm-season grasses were particularly responsive to the supplemental irrigation treatments and tended to increase under irrigation at the expense of cool-season grasses. Because of the increased proportion of warm-season grasses, grazed plots were more responsive to irrigation than ungrazed plots.



root systems;soil water content;Pascopyrum smithii;Bouteloua gracilis;precipitation;Wyoming;grazing intensity;biomass;seasonal variation;botanical composition

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