In previous studies, limited dispersal was revealed to be the main obstacle to restoration of species-rich flood-meadows along the northern Upper Rhine in Germany. To overcome dispersal limitation we transferred freshly mown plant material from species-rich sources to a restoration site on a former arable field. Before plant material application, topsoil was removed to accelerate nutrient impoverishment and create favourable conditions for seedling recruitment.
Topsoil removal led to a drastic reduction in organic matter and essential mineral nutrients to the level of target communities (P) or even below (N, K). At a removal depth of 30 cm content of the soil seed bank that comprised exclusively of annual arable weeds, ruderals and some common grassland species, declined by 60 – 80%, while at a removal depth of 50 cm the seed bank was almost completely eliminated. With few exceptions, all species recorded in source plant material were found established at the restoration site. However, the overall correlation between seed content in plant material and establishment success was not very high.
Vegetation development at the restoration site was characterized by a rapid decline in arable weeds and ruderals, while resident grassland species and species transferred with plant material increased rapidly from the third year onwards. After four years as many as 102 species were established that could be exclusively attributed to plant material transfer, among them many rare and highly endangered plants. Establishment of species from plant material was most successful in regularly flooded plots, due to the suppression of competitors as well as the creation of favourable moisture conditions for seedling emergence.
Diaspore transfer with plant material proved to be an extremely successful method in restoring species-rich grassland. However, high quality of plant material and suitable site conditions with low competition in early stages of succession seem to be essential prerequisites.
Nomenclature: Wisskirchen & Haeupler (1998).