Sustainable, low-input, warm-season, grass-legume grassland mixtures: mission (nearly) impossible?
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Grazing lands in warm-temperate and subtropical North America have become less diverse. Pastures are typically grass monocultures, while rangelands are generally managed for the grass components. Overstocking, selective herbicides, fire exclusion and heavy rates of nitrogen fertilizer have contributed to near exclusion of native, warm-season legumes. The simplicity of managing grass monocultures, pasture production responses to nitrogen fertilizer and profitability of grass-only systems have limited interest in legume-based approaches. Changing economics and ecological concerns with ecosystem accumulation of industrial inputs contribute to an increasing interest in legumes. Unlike the development of temperate pasture legumes and recent research in the tropics, legumes tolerant of both freezing temperatures and hot weather have received less attention. Poor establishment, limited persistence and potential invasiveness limit currently available introduced species. Native, herbaceous, warm-season legume species occur throughout warm-temperate North America, but little attention has been directed to these plants as potential forage species. Some success with a few native legume species, primarily in the genus Desmanthus, suggests potential for expanded assessment of forage value of the many species available. Current assessments of native legumes, primarily for conservation purposes, provide an opportunity to expand evaluations of these species for pasture and rangeland potential while economics of livestock production and public interest in ecosystem health are supportive. Experiences with legumes of warm-temperate origin in North America, along with results with temperate and tropical pasture legumes globally, provide a starting point for future efforts at incorporating greater legume diversity in pastures and rangelands of subtropical and warm-temperate regions around the world. © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
complete list of authors
Muir, JP||Pitman, WD||Foster, JL