Woody plant expansion into rangelands has raised widespread concerns about the potential impacts on livestock production. However, the way in which trees influence the structure, composition and dynamics of herbaceous communities may vary widely depending on local conditions. We studied the effects of trees on the sub-humid grasslands of Uruguay, in southeastern South America, comparing the abundance, diversity and nutrient composition of the herbaceous plants growing under the canopy of isolated trees with those growing at adjacent open places. We analyzed the vegetation patterns at increasing distances from the edge of riparian forests, where tree cover is highest, into the open grasslands. We did not find significant differences between the total biomass of the herbaceous layer growing under and outside tree canopies, but the relative abundance of C3 grasses doubled under trees. Nitrogen content of grasses growing under tree canopies was significantly higher than in adjacent open grasslands, whereas no significant differences were found in P or fiber content. Our results suggest that scattered trees in subtropical grasslands can increase the abundance of high quality forage and contribute to improve the provisioning services of these rangelands.
- Grassy biomes
- Woody plant encroachment