Relationships Between Relative Growth Rate, Meristematic Potential, and Compensatory Growth of Semiarid-land Shrubs

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Inherent relative growth rate has been suggested as a major determinant of plant species' capacity to regrow and compensate for tissues lost to herbivores. We investigated: 1) the relationship between compensatory growth capacity and relative growth rate (RGR) in six semiarid-land shrubs following removal in winter or spring of 90% of the previous year's growth, 2) the influence of loss of buds on production of new growth and 3) the relationship between meristematic potential and the capacity to produce new growth in four of the six semiarid-land shrub species. Four-year-old plants growing under field conditions were used in the study. The species with the highest inherent growth rate, sagebrush [Artemisia tridentatassp. vaseyana (Rydb.) Beetle], died following the severe clipping treatments. The other five species exactly compensated for lost tissues. Inherent growth rates and compensatory growth capacity of the shrubs were not correlated. Loss of 90% of the buds on the previous year's growth did not limit production of new growth. Instead, shrubs that lost buds produced more new growth biomass than the controls. The shrub species had significantly different meristematic potential. Curlleaf mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius Nutt.) and serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia Nutt.) had the greatest and least number of buds and long shoots per plant, respectively. The number of long shoots produced following bud removal was positively correlated with new growth biomass, while the percentage of long shoots produced at the basal position on twigs was negatively correlated with new growth biomass. Our results suggest that inherent growth rate is not likely to influence production of new growth following browsing when resources for growth are not limiting. In contrast, the ability of a shrub to initiate long shoot growth is likely to influence production of new growth even when resources for growth are abundant.

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