Competition between two grass species with and without grazing over a productivity gradient

D.P.J. Kuijper, J. Dubbeld, J.P. Bakker

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16 Citations (Scopus)


Soil nutrient-level and herbivory are predicted to have opposing effects on the allocation pattern of the competitive dominant plant species. Lower stem and higher leaf allocation are favoured when plants are grazed, whereas a higher stem allocation is favoured at high nutrient levels. Grazing by hares and geese can prevent invasion of the tall Elymus athericus, into short vegetation of Festuca rubra, at unproductive stages of salt-marsh succession but not at more productive stages. We hypothesise that the negative effect of herbivory on Elymus decreases due to increasing soil nitrogen levels and shifts the competitive balance towards this species. We tested how simulated grazing and nitrogen availability affected the competitive balance between adult plants of both grass species in a greenhouse experiment. Elymus had a higher above-ground biomass production, invested relatively more in stem and root tissue and had a larger shoot length than Festuca. The above-ground relative yield of Elymus in mixtures of both species increased with increasing nitrogen levels. This indicates that Elymus was the superior competitor at high soil fertility. Although clipping removed relatively more biomass from Elymus than from Festuca and exceeded the observed biomass removal in field conditions, it did not change the competitive balance between both species. Decreasing effects of herbivory due to increasing nitrogen levels are not a likely explanation for the invasion of Elymus in productive marshes. The results suggest that once Elymus has established it can easily invade vegetation dominated by Festuca irrespective of grazing by herbivores such as hares and geese. Herbivory by small herbivores may mainly retard the invasion of this plant by influencing establishment itself.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-246
JournalPlant Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • salt-marsh
  • plant competition
  • vegetation succession
  • mixture experiments
  • biomass allocation
  • nutrient
  • limitation
  • herbivory
  • patterns
  • nitrogen


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