The impact of grazing pressure on gas exchange of Periploca laevigata was studied in relation to its nutritional status. P. laevigata, a woody and highly palatable shrub, is an important forage species in the dry season in Cabo de Gata Natural Park (Almeria, SE Spain) where this study was carried out. Seasonal and diurnal courses of net photosynthesis, transpiration and stomatal conductance were measured in the field. In addition, soil and plant nutrient status were measured as potential factors influencing leaf photosynthetic levels. Early in the growing season, ungrazed P. laevigata had higher photosynthetic activity than grazed plants suggesting that the defoliated plants were still recovering from herbivore damage in the previous summer. Later in the growing season grazed P. laevigata had higher photosynthetic activity than ungrazed plants, suggesting higher metabolic activity and a possible investment in chemical defences. Concentrations of P and N in the soil were higher in the grazed area. The nutrient concentration of the leaves of P. laevigata was similar in grazed and ungrazed plants.
Abbreviations: HG = High grazing disturbance; LG = Ceased grazing.