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Diversified Forage Cropping Systems And Their Implications On Resilience And Productivity

M. Islam, Dennis Ashilenje

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Plant diversity is associated with resilient ecosystems. Loss of plant biodiversity triggered by anthropogenic and climatic factors jeopardizes environmental stability and sustainable forage production. The understanding of biodiversity mechanisms and functional traits of species can help to design forage production systems to buffer against perturbations. Resilience and productivity are linked to plant species characteristics and interactions that enable them to recover from adverse conditions and compensate for the loss of susceptible species. Benefits of diversified crops including enhanced carbon assimilation, nitrogen fixation, and turnover are transferred to soil microbes which in return contribute to resilience against drought and poor soil fertility. In the absence of disturbances, these mechanisms are credited for stability and climax ecosystems. Cultivated systems are more fragile because management interferes with many functions while maintaining few. Strategies that sustain an entire range of functions can increase production regardless of climatic and management factors. This has been demonstrated in binary mixtures of cool season grasses including meadow bromegrass (Bromus biebersteinii Roem. & Schult.), orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata L.), smooth bromegrass (Bromus inermis Leyss.), and intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrum intermedium (Host) Barkworth & D.R. Dewey) with alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.). Suitable combinations of perennial species and cultivars bred for compatible traits can enhance resilience and productivity in a wide range of ecosystems.