Grazing reduces plant sexual reproduction but increases asexual reproduction: A global meta-analysis

Mi Wentao, Shiming Tang, Le Qi, Weibo Ren*, ELLEN FRY, Jonathan De Long, Reuben Margerison, Yuan Chi, Xiaomin Liu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review


Grazing affects grasslands worldwide. However, the global patterns and general mechanisms of how grazing affects plant reproductive traits are poorly understood, especially in the context of different climates and grazing duration. We conducted a meta-analysis of 114 independent grazing studies worldwide that measured plant reproductive traits in grasslands. The results showed that the number of tillers increased under grazing. Grazing did not affect the number of reproductive branches of forbs, but significantly reduced the number of reproductive branches of grasses. Grazing increased the number of vegetative branches of grasses and forbs, but reduced the proportion of reproductive branches. Grazing significantly reduced the number of flowers in forbs. Seed yield in both functional groups was reduced compared with no-grazing.
Under grazing, the sexual reproduction of grasses decreased much more substantially than that of forbs. This may be due to biomass allocation pattern of grasses under grazing (i.e., belowground versus aboveground). Under grazing, plants tended to adopt rapid, low-input asexual reproduction rather than long-term, high-risk sexual reproduction. The effect of grazing on plant sexual reproduction was influenced by grazing intensity, mean annual precipitation, and grazing duration. This study represents the first large-scale evaluation of plant reproductive trait responses under grazing and demonstrates that grazing inhibits sexual reproduction and promotes asexual reproduction. These results will assist in the development of sustainable grazing management strategies to improve the balance between human welfare and grassland ecosystem health.
Original languageEnglish
Article number162850
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date15 Mar 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Mar 2023


  • Fecundity
  • Grassland plant
  • Grazing
  • Herbivory
  • meta-analysis
  • Reproductive traits


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