Performance of native and introduced grasses for low-input pastures. 1. Survival and recruitment
Differential survival and recruitment patterns are commonly ignored within plant selection and breeding programs, where attention is focused largely on selection of cultivars with high biomass and seed yields. However, in low-input situations, where fertiliser application is limited, the use of pasture species with superior survival and recruitment characteristics can offer the potential of cost-effective pasture establishment. We investigated the comparative survival and seedling recruitment of 62 native and introduced perennial grasses under low-fertility conditions within three agro-ecological zones of temperate Australia: the temperate high-rainfall pasture zone; drier mixed-farming areas and Mediterranean southern Australia. Plants were grown from seed in glasshouses and transplanted to the field as spaced plants within 6-8 weeks. At regular intervals, survival of transplanted plants and recruitment of new plants were recorded. We found high mortality over a relatively short (24-month) period among both native and introduced grasses, despite good establishment. Frost damage at the cooler sites resulted in death of some C4 plants early in the experiment. Survival of some lines declined following the dry summer of 2000-01, and lines with best survival after this time were Eragrostis curvula cv. Consol, Austrodanthonia fulva (from Dalgety and Wagga, NSW) and Paspalidium jubiflorum (from Warren, NSW). C3 grasses, which generally had poor survival were a Microlaena stipoides selection from Nile, Tasmania, and two lines of Elymus scaber (Boorowa and Tumut, NSW). The C4 grasses Chloris truncata (Girilambone, NSW) and Dichanthium sericeum (Trangie, NSW) also exhibited poor survival, although there were exceptions at some sites. The native lines A. caespitosa Tas2407, M. stipoides cv. Shannon and A. racemosa were the most successful recruiters. Introduced lines generally had lower recruitment, although two lines of D. glomerata from Spain recruited well at some sites. C4 lines generally had poor recruitment, including E. curvula cv. Consol, Bothriochloa macra, Themeda australis, Enteropogon acicularis, D. sericeum, P. jubiflorum and P. constrictum. The role of plants adapted to low-input situations is discussed, as well as the implications of the attributes of survival and recruitment for selection of new cultivars for these situations.