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Keywords:

  • Sulphur nutrition;
  • forage production;
  • root/shoot ratio;
  • leaf area;
  • root system;
  • Sulphur concentration

Abstract

Forage plants constitute the primary food source for ruminants, and their aboveground growth and belowground growth depend on mineral nutrient supply. The objective of this study was to identify and quantify variation in morphology, production and nutritional status in Panicum maximum cv. Tanzânia and Stylosanthes guianensis cv. Mineirão grown with varying levels of S availability. In an experimental setting, plants of both species received rates of S calculated to reflect suboptimum, adequate and excessive levels of the element. S had a direct effect on morphology and production in both species. S limitation altered the allocation of photosynthates between the aboveground and belowground portions of Guinea grass and stylo, and was associated with lower root dry mass production. Guinea grass plants increased root surface area as an adaptive mechanism when S was limiting in the growth medium. The relative chlorophyll index of recently expanded leaves was correlated with aboveground dry mass production. After the initial growth, Guinea grass and stylo plants showed similar S requirements and use efficiency to achieve the maximum of aboveground productivity, although leguminous plants have a substantially higher capacity for store S in the shoot tissue as compared to gramineous plants growing under similar availability of S in the medium. While applying S was necessary for increasing dry mass production in both species, planting these species together is a promising strategy for guaranteeing high yields of forage with a nutritional value that satisfies the S requirements of ruminants.