, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 103-114
Date: 24 Jun 2009

Interactive effects of rabbit grazing and environmental factors on plant species-richness on dunes of Norderney

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On the German island Norderney rabbit grazing effects on vegetation, soil and microclimate were investigated with exclosures in different dune vegetation. Differences in species composition between grazed and ungrazed plots increased with grazing activity. A decline in growth height resulted in higher light availability and temperature on the grazed sites. One of the most visible effects was the decline in flowering plants. Most grazing effects varied between habitat types. Grey dunes were distinctly affected by rabbit grazing. In relation to the habitat type, life forms were differently affected: in closed vegetation, rabbit activities further open patches, resulting in more therophytes. In contrast, in open vegetation rabbit activities were too strong and following sand dynamics too high for many therophytes. In general, grazing diversified habitats, slightly supported the total species-richness, and enhanced the heterogeneity of species composition. Highest species-richness in total and of herbs was reached at intermediate levels of grazing pressure. The study is in line that highest species-diversity will be found at intermediate levels of disturbance and environmental stress and that grazing effects vary with the habitat type.