Acceleration of the growth rhythm of plants using nitrogen fertiliser alters the rates of physiological processes like growth and senescence and may cause significant changes in sward structure, interfering with plant and animal responses. The objective of this experiment was to evaluate sward structure of marandu palisadegrass (Brachiaria brizantha) maintained at 30 cm under continuous stocking and subjected to contrasting rhythms of growth from January 2007 to April 2008. These were generated using or not nitrogen fertiliser, and comprised four experimental treatments as follows: control (non-fertilised), 150, 300 and 450 kg ha-1 of N. Acceleration of the growth rhythm of plants was associated with increases in leaf and stem bulk density, and resulted in larger LAI and total bulk density on swards subjected to faster (fertilised with 300 and 450 kg ha-1 of N) than those subjected to slower rhythms of growth (non-fertilised or fertilised with 150 kg ha-1 of N). Variations in dead material bulk density were associated with seasonal variations in climatic conditions, and were not influenced by growth rhythms. During autumn/winter and early spring (dry period of the year) swards subjected to faster, relative to those subjected to slower rhythms of growth, had larger proportion of leaves on the top horizons. On the other hand, sward structure did not vary among rhythms of growth at times of the year when there was no limitation in the availability of climatic growth factors (late spring and summer), indicating that when control of the grazing process is efficient, changes in sward structure are basically a function of seasonal variations in climatic growth conditions and phenological state of plants.
herbage bulk density; morphological composition; grazing management; nitrogen