Summer drought survival and recovery in Microlaena stipoides

M. L. Mitchell, J. M. Virgona, J. L. Jacobs, D. R. Kemp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Microlaena stipoides (microlaena) is an important perennial grass in over 7million hectares of native pastures in southern Australia and can survive and persist despite severe soil water deficits during summer. Many other pasture species survive similar conditions by relying on summer dormancy, which raises the possibility that microlaena may behave similarly. A field experiment using rainout shelters was conducted on an existing microlaena pasture in north-east Victoria. The experiment was a split-plot design with two watering treatments ('summer storm' or 'summer dry') as main plots and three defoliation treatments (nil, intense defoliation, strategic defoliation) as subplots. The 'summer storm' treatment resulted in the formation of new buds and tillers and increased basal cover from 1% in February to 18% in March. A glasshouse pot experiment examined the recovery of microlaena after different periods of drought and subsequent rewatering. In the pot experiment, microlaena withstood relatively short (up to 30 days) dry periods and then recovered when rewatered. Thus, it appears that microlaena is a persistent, perennial pasture plant that, although it survives very dry summers in Mediterranean areas, is not summer dormant. Microlaena does not exhibit summer dormancy in response to moisture stress and enter a quiescent stage, because normal growth is prevented by the lack of water, but it quickly recommences growth when soil water becomes available. The ability of microlaena to withstand summer soil water deficits and to recruit from seedlings make it a valuable pasture species across drought-prone environments, and this undoubtedly partly explains its very broad adaptation across eastern Australia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)501-510
Number of pages10
JournalRangeland Journal
Volume38
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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