Herbivory of clonal populations: cattle browsing affects reproduction and population structure of <i>Yucca elata</i>

TitleHerbivory of clonal populations: cattle browsing affects reproduction and population structure of Yucca elata
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1993
AuthorsKerley G.IH, Tiver F., Whitford WG
Date Published1993
Call Number00443
KeywordsBiodiversity; Cattle; Herbivory; Nutritional value of inflorescences; Yucca elata

The hypothesis that cattle browsing on inflorescences of the soaptree Yucca elata reduces reproductive success was investigated by comparing recruitment and population structure in six populations protected from grazing, six grazed during the flowering season and five grazed outside the flowering season. Cattle consumed 98% of inflorescences, which were found to be highly nutritious. Reduced recruitment in flower-grazed populations could not be attributed to reduced flower survival, as recruitment in non-flower grazed populations was also reduced. Changes in population structure were due to cattle browsing small caudices, including both genets and ramets. An alternate hypothesis of limited germination in soils compacted by cattle was not supported. Cattle browsing of inflorescences reduced reproductive effort, which may be due to the inability of the plants to resorb nutrients after flowering. Browsing also increased branching, probably through lack of apical dominance, whereas physical trampling increased procumbency. Cattle browsing implies a lack of genetic recruitment, possible local extinction of the yucca moth Tegeticula yuccasella, the exclusive pollinator of Y. elata, and local reduction in insect and bird biodiversity.