Using Native Warm-Season Grasses in Forage Systems for Improvements in Ecosystem Services

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Virginia Tech

Hay and pastureland in the United States typically consists of introduced cool-season grass species. Many of these cool-season grasses are used due to their productivity, palatability, and tolerance of heavy grazing and aggressive hay harvesting. Biological characteristics of cool-season grasses make them less productive in the summer, potentially limiting cattle production. Native warm-season grasses use a different chemical pathway for photosynthesis than cool-season grasses allowing for them to have higher photosynthetic potential in the summer when temperatures are warmer. This literature review investigates the integration of native warm-season grasses in hay and pasture systems and the potential ecosystem services they may generate. Relevant, available research on native warm-season grasses and potential ecosystem service benefits in forage and livestock systems was reviewed and summarized by type of ecosystem service provided. Ecosystem service provisions were then compared to those of cool-season alternatives to determine the potential gains of native warm-season grass integration. Based on available literature, native warm-season grasses have the potential to be an integral part of future forage livestock agroecosystems in the United States due to the likelihood for overall productivity and environmental benefits.