Seasonal herbaceous structure and biomass production response to rainfall reduction and resting period in the semi-arid grassland area of South Africa

16 Feb 2021

Reduction in rainfall is amongst the major climate change manifestation phenomena, and will have a significant impact on grassland ecosystems. A split plot experimental design was used to investigate the interactive effect of rainfall reduction and resting period (RP) (70 and 90 days) on herbaceous biomass production and rainwater use efficiency in semi-arid grasslands of South Africa. Different levels of rainfall reduction (RD) were setup as main plot treatments while resting periods were set as sub-plot treatments. Four 0.5 m × 0.5 m quadrats were harvested in spring, summer and autumn of 2016/17 and 2017/18 from each sub-plot to determine herbaceous species structure, aboveground biomass production and rainwater use efficiency (RUE). Grasses were most affected by rainfall reduction than forbs at the 30% and 60% RD levels. In contrast, the forbs were more affected at 15% RD while the grasses showed resilience up to 15% reduction in rainfall. The RUE was higher at 30% RD and 70 days RP in almost all three seasons, except in spring 2016/17. Our results show that herbaceous above ground biomass showed resilience up to 15% reduction but were affected more as the rainfall reduction exceeded 30%. The future predicted reduction in rainfall may result in domination of forbs and increaser grass species in the grassland.