Vertical structure of wet grasslands under grazed and non-grazed conditions in Tierra del Fuego


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Abstract. We studied the vertical structure of wet grazed grasslands in Tierra del Fuego (southern Argentina). A point quadrat method was developed using a fine needle graduated in cm. The vertical and horizontal frequency of species and organs was quantified in samples collected from non-grazed and grazed plots in the field. There was vertical stratification in both types of samples, but only in the first eight cm above the ground in grazed samples, with a dominance of Caltha sagittata. In non-grazed samples graminoids grew taller than forbs and their inflorescences were an important element of the canopy structure. In both treatments, vertical species diversity was maximum in the lower part of the canopy, although diversity was significantly higher in grazed pots. In grazed samples, Caltha sagittata was the dominant species in 46% of samples and its leaves occupied 35% of the upper canopy. In the non-grazed samples, Hordeum pubiflorum and Festuca magellanica were dominant in 63% of the samples, with H. pubiflorum leaves occupying 55% of the upper canopy. Comparing species by pairs, significant differences in vertical position were maintained in non-grazed versus grazed pots. It is concluded that vertical stratification occurs even in the shortest communities. In this community, forb species grew close to the ground in the grazed areas, while forbs grew in the gaps and grasses above them in the non-grazed areas. The main differences were in the relative dominance of forb and grass species and the presence of inflorescences.