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Published online by Cambridge University Press: 30 March 2017
Plants’ ability to rebuild their tiller population is affected by weather changes and management strategies. The hypothesis of the present study was that frequency and severity of defoliation alter Mulato grass (Brachiaria ruziziensis × Brachiaria brizantha cv. Marandu) sward development, and the proportion of aerial and basal tillers, interfering with sward stability. The objective was to evaluate aerial, basal and total tiller population density and changes in tillering dynamics. Treatments corresponded to strategies of rotational grazing characterized by combinations between two pre-grazing (95% and maximum canopy light interception during regrowth; LI95% and LIMax) and two post-grazing conditions (15 and 20 cm stubble height). The experimental period comprised four seasons of the year: summer 2008 (February–March 2008); autumn–early spring (April to mid-November 2008); late spring (mid-November–December 2008); and summer 2009 (January–March 2009). Density of aerial tillers decreased from summer 2008 to late spring. Tiller death decreased from summer 2008 to autumn–early spring. Aerial and total tiller death increased from late spring to summer 2009, mainly for the LI95% treatment. No differences were observed in the tiller population stability index of aerial tillers for LI treatments or post-grazing heights. The balance between tiller appearance and death for basal tillers remained relatively stable from summer 2008 to late spring. For aerial tillers the balance decreased to negative values from summer 2008 to autumn–early spring for both LI treatments. For total tiller population, the balance decreased to negative values from summer 2008 to autumn–early spring. Results indicated a strong seasonal effect on Mulato grass tillering and growth. Tillering dynamics were affected primarily by grazing frequency, which changed the relative importance of basal and aerial tillers. The results suggested that basal tillering was the predominant perennation pathway.