Title The role of landuse and natural determinants for grassland vegetation composition in the Swiss Alps
Author/s Katrin Rudmann-Maurer, Anne Weyand, Markus Fischer, Jürg Stöcklin
Year 2008
Journal Basis and Applied Ecology 9: 494-503
Abstract The Alps provide a high habitat diversity for plant species, structured by broad-scale and fine-scale abiotic site conditions. In man-made grasslands, vegetation composition is additionally affected by the type of landuse. We recorded vegetation composition in 216 parcels of grassland in 12 municipalities representing an area of 170x70 km in the south-eastern part of the Swiss Alps. Each parcel was characterized by a combination of altitudinal level (valley, intermediate, alp), traditional landuse (mown, grazed), current management (mown, grazed, abandoned), and fertilization (unfertilized, fertilized). For each parcel we also assessed the abiotic factors aspect, slope, pH-value, and geographic coordinates, and for each municipality annual precipitation and its cultural tradition. We analysed vegetation composition using (i) variation partitioning in RDA, (ii) cover of graminoids, non-legume forbs, and legumes, and (iii) dominance and frequency of species. Species composition was determined by, in decreasing order of variation explained, landuse, broad-scale abiotic factors, fine-scale abiotic factors, and cultural tradition. Current socio-economically motivated landuse changes, such as grazing of unfertilized former meadows or their abandonment, strongly affect vegetation composition. In our study the frequency of characteristic meadow species was significantly smaller in grazed and even smaller in abandoned parcels than in still mown ones, suggesting less severe consequences of grazing for vegetation composition than of abandonment. Therefore, low-intensity grazing and mowing every few years should be considered valuable conservation alternatives to abandonment. Furthermore, because each landuse type was characterized by different species, a high variety of landuse types should be promoted to preserve plant species diversity in Alpine grasslands.
Keywords mowing, grazing, abandonment, Switzerland, plant species composition, landuse changes
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