Pasture resilience reflects differences in root and shoot responses to defoliation, and water and nitrogen deficits


  • Derrick Moot Lincoln University
  • Alistair Black Lincoln University
  • Eric Lyons University of Guelph
  • Lucy Egan Lincoln University
  • Rainer Hofmann Lincoln University



alfalfa, Lolium perenne L., Medicago sativa L., plant development, plant growth


The yield of a pasture is directly proportional to the amount of light plants intercept and allocate to different organs. When plants are carbon (C) limited, due to defoliation, they allocate more C preferentially to shoots to restore leaf area. In contrast, water and nitrogen (N) limitations lead to a greater allocation of C to roots. Changes in the root:shoot ratio therefore reflect changes in C and N partitioning and indicate their relative priority. A major factor that influences plant responses to stress is their ability to store and remobilise reserves to restore leaf area. Species with tap roots, like lucerne, have a large potential C and N storage capacity that is utilised seasonally for storage and remobilisation. This has been used to develop seasonally based grazing management rules. Similarly, recommendations to graze perennial ryegrass at the 2- or 3-leaf stage are based on the balance between maximizing growth rates and the need to replenish water-soluble carbohydrate reserves. However, perennial ryegrass has lower levels of perennial reserves than other grass species. This reduces its resilience to concurrent water deficits or N deficiency. Under these conditions maintaining the recommended 3-leaf grazing intervals and/or leaving higher post-grazing pasture masses are recommended to assist canopy recovery. Other grass species, such as cocksfoot and tall fescue, provide more resilience, particularly in response to water deficits.






Resilient Pastures Symposium 2021