The intake of forage grasses by grazing ruminants is closely related to the mechanical fracture properties of grasses. The relationship between the tensile fracture properties of grasses and foraging behaviour is of particular importance in tropical reproductive swards composed of both stems and leaves. This study (i) quantified and compared the tensile fracture properties of stems and leaves of seven tropical grass species and (ii) provided insight into the underlying plant traits that explain differences in fracture properties between species. Fracture force, tensile strength, fracture energy and toughness of stems (in various phenological stages) and leaves were measured and compared among five introduced tropical grasses (Cenchrus ciliaris, Chloris gayana, Digitaria milanjiana, Megathyrsus maximus (syn. Panicum maximum), Setaria sphacelata) and two native tropical grasses (Setaria surgens and Dichanthium sericeum). Species differed significantly in fracture force and fracture energy, with stems and leaves of C. ciliaris and S. surgens requiring less force and energy to fracture and stems and leaves of M. maximus and S. sphacelata requiring more force and energy to fracture in comparison with the other species. Differences in tensile strength and toughness were less pronounced. The differences among species in fracture force and energy mainly resulted from differences in cross-sectional area of plant parts rather than from differences in tensile strength and toughness. © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
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