, Volume 149, Issue 2, pp 169-180

Patterns of plant species richness in pasture lands of the northeast United States

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Abstract

Pasture lands are an important facet of land use in the northeast United States, yet little is known about their recent diversity. To answer some fundamental questions about the diversity of these pasture lands, we designed a broad survey to document plant species richness using an intensive, multi scale sampling method. We also wanted to learn whether environmental (soils or climate) or land management variables could help explain patterns of species richness. A total of 17 farms, encompassing 37 pastures, were sampled in New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Maryland, Massachusetts and Connecticut during July and August 1998. We positively identified a total of 161 different plant species across the study region. Species richness averaged 31.7±1.1 on pastures. Infrequent, transient species that were mostly perennial and annual forbs accounted for ∼ 90% of the species richness. Except for a subjective rating of grazing intensity, land management methods were not good predictors of species richness. Over time, it appears that grazing neither reduces nor increases species richness in pastures. Of the environmental variables measured, only soil P explained a significant amount of the variation in species richness. Soil P was inversely related to species richness at the 1m2 scale. Percent SOM was positively associated with species richness at this scale, although weakly. At larger spatial scales, we suggest that patterns of species richness are best explained by the species diversity of soil seed banks, or seed rain, and stochastic recruitment of these species into existing vegetation.