Effects of topography, soil moisture, wind and grazing on Festuca seedlings in a Patagonian grassland


Corresponding author; Fax +54 965 51543; E-mail defosse@cenpat.edu.ar


Abstract. The effects of topography, soil moisture, wind and grazing on the emergence and survival of seedlings of Festuca spp. were examined in the steppe zone of Patagonia, Argentina. Ungrazed and grazed field treatment plots were established on a plain and a north-facing slope at the Media Luna Ranch (43° 36′S, 71° 25′W). On the leeward and windward sides of each of 15 Festuca plants, 0.1 m × 0.4 m quadrats were censused bimonthly for seedling emergence and survival over three growing seasons. Three categories were distinguished: recently germinated and up to the first leaf, two to four leaves, and from five leaves up to one tiller. Soil moisture content, litter cover and frost heaving effects were also determined for each treatment at each sampling date. Festuca spp. showed two emergence peaks, one in late fall and the other in early to mid-spring. Seedling emergence was significantly correlated with soil moisture content in the 0–5 cm of the soil during the three growing seasons. Seedlings that emerged in the fall had higher survivorship than those that emerged in spring. Seedling emergence and survival was significantly (p < 0.01) lower on slopes, in the grazing treatment, and on windward sides of adult plants. In this grassland, an increase in the availability of safe sites for seedling emergence and survival might be achieved by protecting vegetation from grazing, particularly on north-facing slopes.