1 In order to investigate the use of plant functional types as an alternati
ve to floristic descriptions of response to grazing, we analysed plant comm
unities from a cattle grazing experiment conducted in grassy eucalypt woodl
and in subtropical Queensland, Australia. The two variables analysed (lands
cape position and stocking rate) accounted for similar proportions of varia
tion in the vegetation ground layer, although forbs were more sensitive to
slope position and perennial grasses were more sensitive to stocking rate.
2 As grazing pressure increased, perennial grasses declined, while the rela
tive proportion of forbs and annual grasses increased. Detailed functional
group analyses were conducted for the perennial grass and forb life-forms.
Annual grasses were represented by only two species, preventing identificat
ion of functional types within this life-form.
3 We conducted a five-step analysis for both perennial grasses and forbs as
follows: (i) defining grazing-related species response groups; (ii) defini
ng species groups based on natural attribute correlations; (iii) identifyin
g attributes that changed significantly with grazing; (iv) identifying synd
romes by relating (ii) and (iii); (v) describing functional types from (iii
) and (iv), and assessing them against actual species response.
4 Eight grass and eight forb functional types were identified. Of the taxa
that had an observed response to grazing, 54% of the grass taxa and 57% of
the forb taxa corresponded to one of these functional types in terms of mee
ting both grazing response and trait criteria. The five-stage analysis prov
ided a comprehensive but complex approach to functional type identification
5 The functional types identified can be summarized as follows. Low levels
of grazing were associated with more medium-sized, moderately leafy perenni
al grasses with wind-dispersed or adhesive seeds, and more erect or twining
forbs with large to medium sized seeds. High levels of grazing were associ
ated with: more annual grasses; low-growing leafy perennial grasses with sm
all seeds having no dispersal appendages; mat-forming large-seeded forbs; a
nd low-growing, scrambling, small-seeded forbs.