Leaf traits affect the above-ground productivity and quality of pasture grasses


†Author to whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: soussana@clermont.inra.fr


  • 1By comparing plant species under the same experimental field conditions, the direct effects of plant traits on ecosystem processes can be studied. We have analyzed the role of leaf traits (leaf lamina dry matter content, LDMC; leaf lamina N content, LNC and specific leaf lamina area, SLA) for the annual above-ground primary productivity (ANPP) and quality (pepsin-cellulase digestibility, crude protein content) for herbivores of 13 perennial C3 pasture grass species.
  • 2These relationships were investigated over 2 years with monocultures grown in a fully factorial block design crossing the plant species, the cutting frequency and the N supply factors.
  • 3The within species variation in leaf traits, ANPP, digestibility and protein content was less than between species variation. Species ranks for leaf traits were conserved among N supply and cutting frequency levels. Highly significant (P < 0·001) between species allometric relationships were found for LNC × SLA and SLA × LDMC, with common slopes but differences in intercept and shifts among factor levels.
  • 4The between species variation in ANPP was strongly (P < 0·001) and negatively correlated with the fresh-matter based leaf N content (i.e. LDMC × LNC) and was not affected by SLA, apparently because of a trade-off between SLA and leaf lamina fraction. Digestibility increased with SLA and declined with LDMC. Protein content increased with both fresh and dry-matter based LNC.
  • 5N supply increased LNC and SLA but reduced LDMC. Cutting frequency increased LDMC and reduced LNC. In response to cutting frequency, changes in digestibility and in fresh-matter based LNC were positively correlated.
  • 6We conclude that the between species variation in the annual production of digestible energy and of proteins by pasture grasses is controlled in an additive way by two leaf traits: LNC and LDMC.