Question: How are plant species and functional group composition, and potential sward height affected by implementation of different grazing regimes on previously abandoned semi-natural grassland?
Location: The Jizerské mountains, northern Czech Republic.
Methods: We established a randomized block experiment with the following treatments: unmanaged control (U), intensive (IG) and extensive (EG) continuous grazing, first cut followed by intensive (ICG) and first cut followed by extensive (ECG) continuous grazing for the rest of the growing season. The percentage cover of all vascular plant species was recorded in 40 permanent plots.
Results: Total plant species richness increased in all managed treatments, whereas species number was reduced in U at the end of the experiment. Tall forbs (Aegopodium podagraria, Galium album, Anthriscus sylvestris, Cirsium arvense) as well as tall grasses (Elytrigia repens and Alopecurus pratensis) were more abundant in U. Species associated with both grazing treatments (IG, EG) were Dactylis glomerata, Festuca rubra agg. and Phleum pratense. Agrostis capillaris, Taraxacum spp., Trifolium repens, Ranunculus repens and Cirsium vulgare were promoted by ECG and ICG. Abundance of tall grasses and tall forbs reflected the intensity of management in the order U>EG, ECG>IG, ICG. Prostrate forbs, on the other hand, increased their cover with increasing intensity: ICG>IG>ECG>EG.
Conclusions: Plant species composition of semi-natural grasslands is affected by the defoliation regime. Continuous grazing on abandoned grassland alters the sward structure towards a permanent pasture with short, light-sensitive grasses and prostrate forbs. To maintain or enhance plant species richness in semi-natural grasslands, understanding the effects of different grazing regimes on plant species composition is necessary.
Nomenclature: Kubát et al. (2002).