Plant species richness and composition in managed grasslands: the relative importance of field management and environmental factors

  • Published source details Klimek S., Kemmermann A.R., Hofmann M. & Isselstein J. (2007) Plant species richness and composition in managed grasslands: the relative importance of field management and environmental factors. Biological Conservation, 134, 559-570.


Primarily as a result of agricultural intensification, species-rich semi-natural grasslands have declined greatly in Europe in recent decades. In this study, 117 grasslands in Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony), northern Germany were sampled aiming to: i) determine the relative importance of grassland management and environmental variables on plant species richness; ii) analyse the effects of the potential main factors influencing plant species composition; and iii) determine if plant species richness and composition are affected by the management regime (meadows, pastures and mowed pastures).

Study area: The study was undertaken within an area of approximately 1,260 km² in the district of Northeim. The grassland types were mesic and intensive mown meadows and pastures on neutral to moderately acid soils, mown meadows on moist to wet soils, limestone grasslands, and matgras Nardus stricta swards on acid soils.

Sampling: Grassland vegetation was recorded in surveys undertaken during May/June 2002 and 2004. A total of 117 managed grassland sites were randomly selected, covering a gradient from agriculturally improved, species-poor grassland to semi-natural, species-rich grassland with no agricultural improvement.

Selected habitat characteristics were recorded for each grassland, reflecting the management, site-specific environmental conditions and large-scale spatial trends. The effects of these variables on the plant species richness and composition were analysed.

Overall, 243 plant species were recorded (188 forbs and 55 grasses). Within the main grassland types the number of species recorded was: meadows 121 (84 forbs and 37 grasses); mown pastures125 (89 forbs and 36 grasses); and grazed grasslands 205 species (162 forbs and 43 grasses). The grasslands managed by grazing had significantly more species than those that were only mown or mown and aftermath grazed. No significant differences in species richness between meadows and mowed pastures were detected. There was a trend towards lower species richness with increasing application of nitrogen fertilizer.

Overall, the authors conclude that in particular, a reduction of nitrogen fertilizer application on meadows, and grazing at a low stocking rate on pastures, can help to conserve plant diversity.

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