Semi-natural calcareous grasslands are of great conservation interest because of their high species richness, but they are threatened by land abandonment and nitrogen eutrophication. These plant communities evolved as a result of a long history of human activity, which generated and maintained these habitats by extensive grazing and mowing. Calcareous grasslands are listed as a priority for conservation in the EC Habitats Directive. However, the effects of different management regimes, nitrogen enrichment, and soil-borne pathogens on plant species diversity are less clear for grasslands of the Mediterranean Basin, compared to meadows in Northern and Central Europe. In this study, we assessed the impact of land abandonment, nitrogen enrichment, and fairy-ring fungi on species diversity in semi-natural grasslands found in the Mediterranean Basin by comparing the available literature with findings from recent studies carried out in Central Italy. In a series of field experiments, the cutting of abandoned grassland consistently reduced the living biomass of the dominant perennial grasses, such as Brachypodium rupestre and Bromus erectus, and promoted a rapid increase in species richness and diversity by allowing the establishment of rare species. There was a similar, but less effective, restoration of species diversity and composition in mowed grassland after litter removal. We also show that nitrogen enrichment at levels comparable to atmospheric deposition depresses species diversity, which also hampers the positive effects of litter removal. Our findings are consistent with previous results achieved in Northern and Central Europe, which however, mainly focused on grasslands with intermediate to high primary productivity levels. The limited availability of data from low-productivity, drought-prone Mediterranean grasslands requires further studies to assess the impact of land abandonment and nitrogen eutrophication in such ecosystems. Finally, we discuss the role of fairy-ring fungi in the maintenance of plant diversity in species-rich grassland. We show that fairy-ring fungi (e.g. Agaricus campestris) critically affect the spatial distribution and diversity of coexisting plant species. By killing the dominant perennial herbs, these radially growing plant pathogens produce empty niches for rare, short-lived species, thus affecting the vegetation pattern. Overall, our results are of interest for environmental managers, as they provide guidelines for the restoration of abandoned areas and the conservation of these species-rich habitats.

Assessing the impact of land abandonment, nitrogen enrichment and fairy-ring fungi on plant diversity of Mediterranean grasslands

INCERTI, Guido;
2013

Abstract

Semi-natural calcareous grasslands are of great conservation interest because of their high species richness, but they are threatened by land abandonment and nitrogen eutrophication. These plant communities evolved as a result of a long history of human activity, which generated and maintained these habitats by extensive grazing and mowing. Calcareous grasslands are listed as a priority for conservation in the EC Habitats Directive. However, the effects of different management regimes, nitrogen enrichment, and soil-borne pathogens on plant species diversity are less clear for grasslands of the Mediterranean Basin, compared to meadows in Northern and Central Europe. In this study, we assessed the impact of land abandonment, nitrogen enrichment, and fairy-ring fungi on species diversity in semi-natural grasslands found in the Mediterranean Basin by comparing the available literature with findings from recent studies carried out in Central Italy. In a series of field experiments, the cutting of abandoned grassland consistently reduced the living biomass of the dominant perennial grasses, such as Brachypodium rupestre and Bromus erectus, and promoted a rapid increase in species richness and diversity by allowing the establishment of rare species. There was a similar, but less effective, restoration of species diversity and composition in mowed grassland after litter removal. We also show that nitrogen enrichment at levels comparable to atmospheric deposition depresses species diversity, which also hampers the positive effects of litter removal. Our findings are consistent with previous results achieved in Northern and Central Europe, which however, mainly focused on grasslands with intermediate to high primary productivity levels. The limited availability of data from low-productivity, drought-prone Mediterranean grasslands requires further studies to assess the impact of land abandonment and nitrogen eutrophication in such ecosystems. Finally, we discuss the role of fairy-ring fungi in the maintenance of plant diversity in species-rich grassland. We show that fairy-ring fungi (e.g. Agaricus campestris) critically affect the spatial distribution and diversity of coexisting plant species. By killing the dominant perennial herbs, these radially growing plant pathogens produce empty niches for rare, short-lived species, thus affecting the vegetation pattern. Overall, our results are of interest for environmental managers, as they provide guidelines for the restoration of abandoned areas and the conservation of these species-rich habitats.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11390/1104392
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