Title Agricultural land use and biodiversity in the Alps – How cultural tradition and socioeconomically motivated changes are shaping grassland biodiversity in the Swiss Alps
Author/s Markus Fischer, Katrin Rudmann-Maurer, Anne Weyand, Jürg Stöcklin
Year 2008
Journal Mountain Research and Depelopment 28: 1148-155
Abstract Alpine grasslands are ecosystems of high plant species diversity. However, little is known about other levels of biodiversity, such as landscape diversity, herbivore diversity, and genetic diversity. Therefore, we comprehensively explored natural and anthropogenic determinants of grassland biodiversity at several levels of biological integration from the gene to the landscape in the Swiss Alps. Differences between ancient cultural traditions turned out to still affect land use diversity and thus landscape diversity. Plant species diversity per village increased with increasing land use diversity. However, recent land use changes aiming to alleviate farmer’s workload reduce this diversity. Within parcels of land, plant species diversity was higher in unfertilized mown grasslands than in fertilized or grazed ones. Independent of land use and fertilization, plant species richness was highest at intermediate altitudes. Most individual plants are damaged by herbivores and fungal leaf pathogens, but this damage is not severe. Therefore, conserving these biological interactions of plants hardly compromises agricultural goals. A common-garden experiment revealed genetic differentiation of the important fodder grass Poa alpina between mown and grazed sites, suggesting adaptation. Per-village genetic diversity of Poa alpina was higher in villages with higher land use diversity, analogous to the higher plant species diversity there. Overall, landscape diversity and grassland parcels are currently declining. As this contradicts Swiss laws and international agreements financial incentives need to be re-allocated and focus on promoting high biodiversity at the local and the landscape level. At the same time, this will benefit landscape attractiveness for tourists and the preservation of the last remnants of cultural heritage in the Swiss Alps.
Keywords agricultural policy, subsidies, Alps, biodiversity, cultural traditions
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