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PLoS One. 2015 May 27;10(5):e0125758. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0125758. eCollection 2015.

Influence of plant community composition on biomass production in planted grasslands.

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School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI, United States of America.


United States energy policy mandates increased use of renewable fuels. Restoring grasslands could contribute to a portion of this requirement through biomass harvest for bioenergy use. We investigated which plant community characteristics are associated with differences in biomass yield from a range of realistic native prairie plantings (n = 11; i.e., conservation planting, restoration, and wildlife cover). Our primary goal was to understand whether patterns in plant community composition and the Floristic Quality Index (FQI) were related to productivity as evidenced by dormant season biomass yield. FQI is an objective measure of how closely a plant community represents that of a pre-European settlement community. Our research was conducted in planted fields of native tallgrass prairie species, and provided a gradient in floristic quality index, species richness, species diversity, and species evenness in south-central Wisconsin during 2008 and 2009. We used a network of 15 randomly located 1 m2 plots within each field to characterize the plant community and estimate biomass yield by clipping the plots at the end of each growing season. While plant community composition and diversity varied significantly by planting type, biomass yield did not vary significantly among planting types (ANOVA; P >0.05). Biomass yield was positively correlated with plant community evenness, richness, C4 grass cover, and floristic quality index, but negatively correlated with plant species diversity in our multi-season multiple linear mixed effects models. Concordantly, plots with biomass yield in the lowest quartile (biomass yield < 3500 kh/ha) had 8% lower plant community evenness and 9% lower FQI scores than those in the upper quartile (biomass yield > 5800 kh/ha). Our results suggest that promoting the establishment of fields with high species evenness and floristic quality may increase biomass yield, while simultaneously supporting biodiversity.

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