Plant traits of Bituminaria bituminosa, as affected by different intensities of cattle grazing, were studied in a Mediterranean grassland in Israel. B. bituminosa is a widespread Mediterranean perennial legume species that may potentially serve as a fodder crop in Mediterranean grasslands. The aims of the present study were: (i) to evaluate the responses of B. bituminosa to different cattle grazing intensities; (ii) to study functional traits associated with grazing tolerance; and (iii) to evaluate its potential as an alternative forage crop in the region. A total of 100 B. bituminosa plants were monitored in field conditions. During the growing season each individual was sampled five times and the following plant traits were monitored each time: (i) aboveground biomass production, (ii) plant height, (iii) specific leaf area (SLA), (iv) number of flowers, (v) seed mass and size, (vi) tannin concentration in leaves, (vii) total nitrogen in leaves, (viii) fibre concentration in leaves (Neutral Detergent Fiber), and (ix) in vitro dry matter digestibility. The results showed that grazing intensity and history of grazing affected B. bituminosa performance. Plant biomass, height, and flower and seed production were all reduced when plants were exposed to cattle grazing. However, under moderate grazing intensities, its plant cover remained relatively stable indicating a potential tolerance under this stocking rate. The nutritious characteristics of B. bituminosa leaves were good, and the condensed tannins concentration found indicated favourable conditions for digestion. Moreover, the in vitro digestibility studies indicated relatively high values (46-51 %) of digestion. B. bituminosa may be considered as a potential crop for cattle feeding in Mediterranean grasslands. Growing this plant in dense stands in rotational paddocks may provide alternative sources of natural fodder protein, reducing the potential costs of artificial feed supplements.
- Plant traits