Understanding the drivers that account for plant production allows for a better understanding of plant communities and the transitions within ecological sites and can assist managers in making informed decisions about stocking rates and timing of grazing. We compared climatic drivers of herbage production for 3 plant communities of the Clayey ecological site in southwestern South Dakota: the midgrass community dominated by western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii [Rybd.] A. Love); the mixed-grass community codominated by western wheatgrass, blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis [H.B.K.] Lag. Ex Griffiths), and buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides [Nutt.] Engelm.); and the shortgrass community dominated by blue grama and buffalograss. We used herbage yield and weather data for the period 1945–1960 collected at the South Dakota State University Range and Livestock Research Station near Cottonwood, South Dakota, to develop stepwise regression models for each plant community. Midgrass herbage production was best predicted by current-year spring (April–June) precipitation, number of calendar days until the last spring day with minimum temperature ≤ −1°C, and previous-year spring precipitation (R2 = 0.81). Mixed-grass herbage production was best predicted by current-year spring precipitation and days until the last spring freeze (R2 = 0.69). Shortgrass herbage production was best predicted by current-year spring precipitation (R2 = 0.52). Midgrass plant communities were, overall, 650 kg·ha−1 (SE = 92 kg·ha−1) more productive (P < 0.01) than mixed- or shortgrass plant communities given the same climatic inputs. Our study enables managers to make timely informed decisions regarding stocking rates and timing of grazing on this ecological site in western South Dakota.
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Vol. 60 • No. 2