Stocking rate manipulation was examined as a means of improving plant diversity (as a measure of pasture sustainability and forage value) in a native grass pasture used for dairy production in the humid tropics of Veracruz, Mexico. Given that environmental impact reduces biotic diversity, plant phylogenetic and functional diversity should decline with increased stocking rate. Stocking rates of 2, 3, and 4 cows · ha−1 and a rotational grazing plan of 3 d of occupation and 27 d of rest per pasture were applied continuously over 5 yr. Across 200 quadrats in each of two replicate paddocks per treatment, observed species richness, phylogenetic diversity (average taxonomic distinctness based on species presence/absence), and functional diversity (life-cycle duration and growth habit) were assessed. Most species were forb/herbs and forb/herb-subshrubs. Perennial species declined with increased stocking rate (F = 16.36, 0.05 > P > 0.02) while annual-perennial species increased (F = 76.88, 0.01 > P > 0.005); the proportion of annual species was least prominent and did not differ significantly. Observed species richness and phylogenetic diversity did not differ significantly with stocking rate. The correlation between functional diversity for life-cycle duration and phylogenetic diversity was significant and positive, suggesting that plant communities were predominantly assembled randomly from the surrounding species pool rather than through interspecies interactions acting to naturally filter immigrant species, thus leading to more opportunistic and undesired species. Although grazing pressure was not sufficient to alter indices or production measures, they did reveal shifts that may precede further pasture decline, indicating pasture sustainability was not being achieved. These rapid assessment methods permit monitoring for early warnings of reductions in pasture sustainability and forage quality for cattle.
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Vol. 66 • No. 3