, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 13-34

Diaspore and gap availability are limiting species richness in wet meadows

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Abstract

Species pool theory claims that diaspore and microsite availability limit species richness in plant communities. Wet meadows (Calthion) and litter meadows (Molinion, Caricion davallianae) belonging to the most species-rich meadows in the foothills of the Alps have suffered from a strong decrease since the 1970s. Restoration efforts including nutrient impoverishment and rewetting management after drainage and fertilization did not result in the re-establishment of the former species richness although the abiotic filter would have been appropriate for the re-colonization of many locally extinct species. In our experiment at four sites in the largest fen of Southwest-Germany we tested if the restoration success was seed- and gap-limited. We applied sowing and hay spreading (hay seed) as treatments to make seeds available and harrowing to increase gap availability. Sowing seeds or hay seed of species of the former meadow types increased species richness immediately. The proportion of re-established species was higher when additional harrowing was applied. Species richness could be increased not only in vascular plants but also in bryophytes when hay spreading was applied. The strongest re-development towards the target communities (defined through the abiotic filter and the species richness before drainage and fertilization) took place on those sites where hay spreading and harrowing were applied. Sowing seeds and hay seed were traditional techniques to establish e.g. litter meadows, both techniques have been applied for centuries. Even harrowing was described as early as the 19th century to increase the chance of establishing certain species. Therefore, the “application of the knowledge coming from the species pool theory” (although not named during this time) has been common practice since at least the 19th century.