Carbohydrate Reserve Theory: What You Learned Might Be Wrong

Chad Reid, Agricultural and Natural Resources Agent Iron County, Utah co-authored this piece with Beth. For years, managers used the carbohydrate reserve theory to decide when to graze plants on rangelands to maintain healthy and desirable plants. The carbohydrate reserve theory states that the soluble carbohydrates stored in the roots and crowns of plants indicate plant health and ability to regrow after grazing. During the early vegetative stage of plant growth, carbohydrate “reserves” are low, so plants should not be grazed. During late vegetative and early reproductive stages of growth, carbohydrate “reserves” are higher, and plants can better tolerate grazing as shown here: Over the years, researchers produced carbohydrate concentration curves for different grasses, forbs, and shrubs, like this one. Unfortunately, carbohydrate reserves in plants are not good indicators of its ability to regrow after grazing for several reasons: 1. Carbohydrates are typically measured as concentrations that change only a small amount during the year, but fluctuate widely throughout the day. 2. Concentrations don’t reflect the total amount of carbohydrate available for regrowth. To accurately measure the total amount of carbohydrates, the concentration of soluble carbohydrates in different plant tissues (roots, crowns, leaves, stems) must be multiplied by the weight of those tissues. Most early studies only analyzed roots and crowns, but stems in grasses

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