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Lasting effects of climate disturbance on perennial grassland above-ground biomass production under two cutting frequencies


Correspondence: Catherine Picon-Cochard, tel. +33 473 62 45 84, fax +33 473 62 44 57, e-mail:


Climate extremes can ultimately reshape grassland services such as forage production and change plant functional type composition. This 3-year field research studied resistance to dehydration and recovery after rehydration of plant community and plant functional types in an upland perennial grassland subjected to climate and cutting frequency (Cut+, Cut−) disturbances by measuring green tissue percentage and above-ground biomass production (ANPP). In year 1, a climate disturbance gradient was applied by co-manipulating temperature and precipitation. Four treatments were considered: control and warming-drought climatic treatment, with or without extreme summer event. In year 2, control and warming-drought treatments were maintained without extreme. In year 3, all treatments received ambient climatic conditions. We found that the grassland community was very sensitive to dehydration during the summer extreme: aerial senescence reached 80% when cumulated climatic water balance fell to −156 mm and biomass declined by 78% at the end of summer. In autumn, canopy greenness and biomass totally recovered in control but not in the warming-drought treatment. However ANPP decreased under both climatic treatments, but the effect was stronger on Cut+ (−24%) than Cut− (−15%). This decline was not compensated by the presence of three functional types because they were negatively affected by the climatic treatments, suggesting an absence of buffering effect on grassland production. In the following 2 years, lasting effects of climate disturbance on ANPP were observable. The unexpected stressful conditions of year 3 induced a decline in grassland production in the Cut+ control treatment. The fact that this treatment cumulated higher (45%) N export over the 3 years suggests that N plays a key role in ANPP stability. As ANPP in this mesic perennial grassland did not show engineering resilience, long-term experimental manipulation is needed. Infrequent mowing appears more appropriate for sustaining grassland ANPP under future climate extremes.

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