, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 547-567
Date: 14 Dec 2008

Changes over three decades in the floristic composition of nutrient-poor grasslands in the Swiss Alps

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Abstract

To investigate recent changes in the floristic composition and nature conservation value of nutrient-poor, semi-natural grasslands of the Swiss Alps, we resurveyed 151 phytosociological relevés in four regions, originally recorded between 1975 and 1985. In the original surveys, the mean number of plant species per plot (25–100 m2) ranged from 47.1 to 58.1 according to region. The flora included a total of 18 species that are protected in Switzerland and a high proportion of habitat specialists of nutrient-poor grasslands (NPG-species). In the second survey, conducted between 2002 and 2004, both mean species number per plot (−3.2 to +11.4) and species evenness (−0.05 to +0.07) were higher in most regions. However, the data revealed clear shifts in community composition, with a higher proportion of nutrient-demanding species (mean nutrient indicator value increased by +0.07 to +0.24 units) and a lower proportion per plot of NPG-species (−3.6 to −11.6%). These changes were greatest in pastures, and in meadows converted to sheep pastures, while the NPG-species were maintained in unfertilized meadows that were managed as ecological compensation areas. To prevent continuing decline in the conservation value of these grasslands, it is important to support low-intensity management, especially mowing, and to prevent further eutrophication.