The role of plant traits and their plasticity in the response of pasture grasses to nutrients and cutting frequency

Laíse Da Silveira Pontes*, Frédérique Louault, Pascal Carrère, Vincent Maire, Donato Andueza, Jean François Soussana

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


Background and Aims: Although plant functional traits (PFTs) appear to be important indicators of species' responses to land use changes, there is no clear understanding of how the variations in traits and their plasticity determine variations in species performance. This study investigated the role of functional shoot traits and their plasticity for variation in above-ground net primary productivity (ANPP) due to changes in N supply and in cutting frequency for 13 native perennial C3 grass species. Methods: Monocultures of the grass species were grown in a fully factorial block design combining plant species, cutting frequency and N supply as factors. Key Results: Four major trait associations were obtained by reducing the dimensions of 14 PFTs with a principal component analysis (PCA).Variations in species' productivity in response to an increase in cutting frequency was mainly explained by traits linked to the first PCA axis, opposing high plant stature from lower shoot cellulose and lignin contents and high leaf N content. Variation in species productivity in response to change in N supply was mainly explained by a set of predictor variables combining traits (average flowering date) and a trait's plasticity (tiller density per unit land area and leaf dry matter content, i.e. mg dry matter g fresh mass-1). These traits involved are linked to the second PCA axis ('nutrient acquisition-conservation'), which opposes distinct strategies based on response to nutrient supply. Conclusions: Variations in ANPP of species in response to an increase in cutting frequency and a decrease in N supply are controlled by a group of traits, rather than by one individual trait. Incorporating plasticity of the individual traits into these trait combinations was the key to explaining species' productivity responses, accounting for up to 89 of the total variability in response to the changes in N supply.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)957-965
Number of pages9
JournalAnnals of Botany
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2010


  • C grasses
  • Cutting
  • Grassland
  • Leaf traits
  • Nitrogen
  • Primary productivity
  • Species strategy
  • Trait plasticity

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