, Volume 46, Issue 2-3, pp 165-179
Date: 11 Sep 2010

Remnant Populations and Plant Functional Traits in Abandoned Semi-Natural Grasslands

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Abstract

Although semi-natural grasslands in Europe are declining there is often a time delay in the local extinction of grassland species due to development of remnant populations, i.e., populations with an extended persistence despite a negative growth rate. The objectives of this study were to examine the occurrence of remnant populations after abandonment of semi-natural grasslands and to examine functional traits of plants associated with the development of remnant populations. We surveyed six managed semi-natural grasslands and 20 former semi-natural grasslands where management ceased 60–100 years ago, and assessed species response to abandonment, assuming a space-for-time substitution. The response of species was related to nine traits representing life cycle, clonality, leaf traits, seed dispersal and seed mass. Of the 67 species for which data allowed analysis, 44 species declined after grassland abandonment but still occurred at the sites, probably as remnant populations. Five traits were associated with the response to abandonment. The declining but still occurring species were characterized by high plant height, a perennial life form, possession of a perennial bud bank, high clonal ability, and lack of dispersal attributes promoting long-distance dispersal. Traits allowing plants to maintain populations by utilizing only a part of their life cycle, such as clonal propagation, are most important for the capacity to develop remnant populations and delay local extinction. A considerable fraction of the species inhabiting semi-natural grasslands maintain what is most likely remnant populations after more than 60 years of spontaneous succession from managed semi-natural grasslands to forest.