Plant Ecology

, Volume 212, Issue 9, pp 1563–1576 | Cite as

Effects of grazing on seasonal variation of aboveground biomass quality in calcareous grasslands

  • Till Kleinebecker
  • Heidi Weber
  • Norbert Hölzel


Low-intensive grazing is a widely used management tool to conserve the outstanding biodiversity of calcareous grasslands. As conservation management is cost-intensive and often hampered by limited financial resources, combining adequate management for biodiversity conservation with feasible livestock production may be relevant for both conservationists and land managers. However, profound knowledge of the effect of grazing in non-intensively used grasslands on seasonal variation in biomass quality is scarce. We analyzed the floristic composition, abiotic soil properties and the chemical composition of aboveground biomass in a grazed calcareous grassland in NW Germany. Sampling took place in monthly intervals during one growing season. To separate the impact of grazing and non-grazing on biomass quality, an exclosure experiment was performed. Floristic composition of the studied calcareous grasslands was mainly related to two gradients representing the trophic status and the long-term management intensity. Differences in abiotic site conditions were hardly reflected by nutrient concentrations in the biomass. Irrespectively of abiotic site conditions, the chemical composition of the biomass showed a clear seasonal trend. Nutrient concentrations strongly declined from May to July but increased again in August, probably because of favourable current-year weather conditions. Sheep grazing improved biomass quality indicating that grazing modifies the environment beneficially for the animals. We conclude that early spring and late summer grazing is an appropriate management scheme to balance requirements of both feasible livestock production and biodiversity conservation, which is promising for sustainable and long-term conservation management.


Conservation management Nitrogen N:P ratio Phosphorus Semi-natural grasslands Temporal variation 



We thank Jürgen Schienke (shepherd) for background information and support during field work. Kathrin Kiehl (University of Applied Science Osnabrück) and Verena Möllenbeck (University of Münster) provided helpful comments to a former version of this manuscript. Lillian Harris polished our English.


  1. Anderson TM, Dong Y, McNaughton SJ (2006) Nutrient acquisition and physiological responses of dominant Serengeti grasses to variation in soil texture and grazing. J Ecol 94:1164–1175CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anger M, Malchrek A, Kühbauch W (1997) Futterqualität von Extensivgrünlandbeständen im Mittelgebirge Nordrhein-Westfalens. Verhandlungen der Gesellschaft für Ökologie 27:139–145Google Scholar
  3. Anger M, Malcharek A, Kühbauch W (2002) An evaluation of the fodder values of extensively utilised grasslands in upland areas of western Germany. II. Energy value, crude protein, crude fibre, and components of cell wall in extensively utilised swards cut at the beginning of July. J Appl Bot–Angew Bot 76:47–51Google Scholar
  4. Bennie J, Hill MO, Baxter R, Huntley B (2006) Influence of slope and aspect on long-term vegetation change in British chalk grasslands. J Ecol 94:355–368CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bobbink R, Dendubbelden K, Willems JH (1989) Seasonal dynamics of phytomass and nutrients in chalk grasslands. Oikos 55:216–224CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Braun-Blanquet J (1964) Pflanzensoziologie. Grundzüge der Vegetationskunde. Springer, WienGoogle Scholar
  7. Bullock JM, Pywell RF, Burke MJW, Walker KJ (2001) Restoration of biodiversity enhances agricultural production. Ecol Lett 4:185–189CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Burke IC, Lauenroth WK, Parton WJ (1997) Regional and temporal variation in net primary production and nitrogen mineralization in grasslands. Ecology 78:1330–1340CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chabrerie O, Laval K, Puget P, Desaire S, Alard D (2003) Relationship between plant and soil microbial communities along a successional gradient in a chalk grassland in north-western France. Appl Soil Ecol 24:43–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chapin FS, McNaughton SJ (1989) Lack of compensatory growth under phosphorus deficiency in grazing-adapted grasses from the Serengeti plains. Oecologia 79:551–557CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Čop J, Vidrih M, Hacin J (2009a) Influence of cutting regime and fertilizer application on the botanical composition, yield and nutritive value of herbage of wet grasslands in Central Europe. Grass Forage Sci 64:454–465CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Čop J, Lavrenčič A, Košmelj K (2009b) Morphological development and nutritive value of herbage in five temperate grass species during primary growth: analysis of time dynamics. Grass Forage Sci 64:122–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Critchley CNR, Chambers BJ, Fowbert JA, Sanderson RA, Bhogal A, Rose SC (2002) Association between lowland grassland plant communities and soil properties. Biol Conserv 105:199–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dolek M, Geyer A (2002) Conserving biodiversity on calcareous grasslands in the Franconian Jura by grazing: a comprehensive approach. Biol Conserv 104:351–360CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Donath TW, Hölzel N, Bissels S, Otte A (2004) Perspectives for incorporating biomass from non-intensively managed temperate flood-meadows into farming systems. Agric Ecosyst Environ 104:439–451CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Duckworth JC, Bunce RGH, Malloch AJC (2000) Vegetation–environment relationships in Atlantic European calcareous grasslands. J Veg Sci 11:15–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Egli P, Schmid B (2000) Seasonal dynamics of biomass and nitrogen in canopies of Solidago altissima and effects of a yearly mowing treatment. Acta Oecol 21:63–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Frank DA (2008) Ungulate and topographic control of nitrogen: phosphorus stoichiometry in a temperate grassland; soils, plants and mineralization rates. Oikos 117:591–601CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Frank DA, Kuns MM, Guido DR (2002) Consumer control of grassland plant production. Ecology 83:602–606CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gibson CWD, Dawkins HC, Brown VK, Jepsen M (1987) Spring grazing by sheep–effects on seasonal changes during early old field succession. Vegetatio 70:33–43Google Scholar
  21. Gruner DS, Smith JE, Seabloom EW, Sandin SA, Ngai JT, Hillebrand H, Harpole WS, Elser JJ, Cleland EE, Bracken MES, Borer ET, Bolker BM (2008) A cross-system synthesis of consumer and nutrient resource control on producer biomass. Ecol Lett 11:740–755PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Güsewell S (2004) N:P ratios in terrestrial plants: variation and functional significance. New Phytol 164:243–266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hejcman M, Schellberg J, Pavlů V (2010a) Long-term effects of cutting frequency and liming on soil chemical properties, biomass production and plant species composition of Lolio-Cynosuretum grassland after the cessation of fertilizer application. Appl Veg Sci 13:257–269Google Scholar
  24. Hejcman M, Szaková J, Schellberg J, Tlustoš P (2010b) The Rengen Grassland experiment: relationship between soil and biomass chemical properties, amount of elements applied, and their uptake. Plant Soil 333:163–179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Holland EA, Detling JK (1990) Plant-response to herbivory and belowground nitrogen cycling. Ecology 71:1040–1049CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Isselstein J, Griffith BA, Pradel P, Venerus S (2007) Effects of livestock breed and grazing intensity on biodiversity and production in grazing systems. 1. Nutritive value of herbage and livestock performance. Grass Forage Sci 62:145–158CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Jamieson N, Monaghan R, Barraclough D (1999) Seasonal trends of gross N mineralization in a natural calcareous grassland. Glob Change Biol 5:423–431CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kahlert BR, Ryser P, Edwards PJ (2005) Leaf phenology of three dominant limestone grassland plants matching the disturbance regime. J Veg Sci 16:433–442CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kahmen S, Poschlod P, Schreiber KF (2002) Conservation management of calcareous grasslands. Changes in plant species composition and response of functional traits during 25 years. Biol Conserv 104:319–328CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Karlik P, Poschlod P (2009) History or abiotic filter: which is more important in determining the species composition of calcareous grasslands? Preslia 81:321–340Google Scholar
  31. Keeney DR, Nelson DW (1982) Nitrogen: inorganic forms. In: Page AL, Miller RH, Keeney DR (eds) Methods of soil analysis: part 2. American Society of Agronomy, Wisconin, pp 643–698Google Scholar
  32. Kiehl K (2009) Renaturierung von Kalkmagerrasen. In: Zerbe S, Wiegleb G (eds) Renaturierung von Ökosystemen in Mitteleuropa. Spektrum, Heidelberg, pp 265–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kirchgeßner M, Kellner RJ (1982) Schätzung des energetischen Futterwertes von Grün- und Rauhfutter durch die Cellulase-Methode. Landwirtschaftliche Forschung 34:276–283Google Scholar
  34. Klimek S, Kemmermann ARG, Hofmann M, Isselstein J (2007) Plant species richness and composition in managed grasslands: the relative importance of field management and environmental factors. Biol Conserv 134:559–570CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lanta V, Doležal J, Lantová P, Kelíšek J, Mudrák O (2009) Effects of pasture management and fertilizer regimes on botanical changes in species-rich mountain calcareous grassland in Central Europe. Grass Forage Sci 64:443–453CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Leyer I, Wesche K (2007) Multivariate Statistik in der Ökologie. Springer, Berlin/HeidelbergGoogle Scholar
  37. Marschner H (2005) Mineral nutrition of higher plants. Academic Press, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  38. McCune B, Grace JB (2002) Analysis of ecological Communities. MjM Software, Gleneden BeachGoogle Scholar
  39. McNaughton SJ, Banyikwa FF, McNaughton MM (1997) Promotion of the cycling of diet-enhancing nutrients by African grazers. Science 278:1798–1800PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Mills J, Rook AJ, Dumont B, Isselstein J, Scimone M, Wallis De Vries MF (2007) Effect of livestock breed and grazing intensity on grazing systems: 5. Management and policy implications. Grass Forage Sci 62:429–436CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Mládek J, Hejcman M, Hejduk S, Duchoslav M, Pavlů V (2011) Community seasonal development enables late defoliation without loss of forage quality in semi-natural grasslands. Folia Geobot 46:17–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Naumann C, Bassler H (1976) VDLUFA-Methodenbuch, Vol. III. Die chemische Untersuchung von Futtermitteln mit Ergänzungen von 1983, 1988, 1993, 1997, 2004 und 2006. VDLUFA, DarmstadtGoogle Scholar
  43. Neitzke M (2002) Changes in energy fixation and efficiency of energy capture in aboveground biomass along an environmental gradient in calcareous grasslands. Flora 197:103–117Google Scholar
  44. Oelmann Y, Broll G, Hölzel N, Kleinebecker T, Vogel A, Schwartze P (2009) Nutrient impoverishment and limitation of productivity after 20 years of conservation management in wet grasslands of north-western Germany. Biol Conserv 142:2941–2948CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Olde Venterink H, Wassen MJ, Verkroost AWM, de Ruiter PC (2003) Species richness-productivity patterns differ between N-, P-, and K-limited wetlands. Ecology 84:2191–2199CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Ombabi A, Sudekum KH, Taube F (2001) Dynamics of changes in digestibility and feed intake by sheep of two ryegrass species during primary growth. J Anim Physiol An N 85:385–405CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Pastor J, Naiman RJ (1992) Selective foraging and ecosystem processes in boreal forests. Am Nat 139:690–705CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Pastor J, Dewey B, Naiman RJ, McInnes PF, Cohen Y (1993) Moose browsing and soil fertility in the boreal forests of Isle-Royale-National-Park. Ecology 74:467–480CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Patton BD, Dong XJ, Nyren PE, Nyren A (2007) Effects of grazing intensity, precipitation, and temperature on forage production. Rangeland Ecol Manag 60:656–665CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Poschlod P, Bakker JP, Kahmen S (2005) Changing land use and its impact on biodiversity. Basic Appl Ecol 6:93–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Römermann C, Bernhardt-Römermann M, Kleyer M, Poschlod P (2009) Substitutes for grazing in semi-natural grasslands–do mowing or mulching represent valuable alternatives to maintain vegetation structure? J Veg Sci 20:1086–1098CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Schönbach P, Wan H, Gierus M, Bai Y, Müller K, Lin L, Susenbeth A, Taube F (2011) Grassland responses to grazing: effects of grazing intensity and management system in an Inner Mongolian steppe ecosystem. Plant Soil. doi: 10.1007/s11104-010-0366-6
  53. Schüller H (1969) Die CAL-Methode, eine neue Methode zur Bestimmung des pflanzenverfügbaren Phosphates im Boden. Zeitschrift für Pflanzenernährung und Bodenkunde 123:48–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Smits NAC, Willems JH, Bobbink R (2008) Long-term after-effects of fertilisation on the restoration of calcareous grasslands. Appl Veg Sci 11:279–292CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Sokal RR, Rohlf FJ (1981) Biometry. Freeman, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  56. Spellerberg IF, Goldsmith FB, Morris MG (eds) (1991) The scientific management of temperate communities for conservation. Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  57. Sýkora KV, Vanderkrogt G, Rademakers J (1990) Vegetation change on embarkments in the south-western part of The Netherlands under the influence of different management practices (in particular sheep grazing). Biol Conserv 52:49–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Tamis WLM, Beckers A, Kooijmans LL, Mourik J, Vreeken B (2009) Munch, munch, there goes another tasty orchid; the impact of cattle grazing on Red List species. Gorteria 33:186–201Google Scholar
  59. ter Braak CJ, Šmilauer P (2002) CANOCO reference manual and user’s guide to Canoco for Windows: software for canonical community ordination (version 4.5). Microcomputer Power, Ithaca, NYGoogle Scholar
  60. Unkovich M, Jamieson N, Monaghan R, Barraclough D (1998) Nitrogen mineralisation and plant nitrogen acquisition in a nitrogen-limited calcareous grassland. Environ Exp Bot 40:209–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. van Wieren SE, Bakker JP (2008) The impact of browsing and grazing herbivores on biodiversity. In: Gordon IJ, Prins HHT (eds) The ecology of browsing and grazing. Springer, Berlin, pp 263–292CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Wallis De Vries MF, Poschlod P, Willems JH (2002) Challenges for the conservation of calcareous grasslands in northwestern Europe: integrating the requirements of flora and fauna. Biol Conserv 104:265–273CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Walter A, Schurr U (2005) Dynamics of leaf and root growth: endogenous control versus environmental impact. Ann Bot 95:891–900PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Wassen MJ, Venterink HO, Lapshina ED, Tanneberger F (2005) Endangered plants persist under phosphorus limitation. Nature 437:547–550PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Willems JH (2001) Problems, approaches, and results in restoration of Dutch calcareous grassland during the last 30 years. Restor Ecol 9:147–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Willems JH, Peet RK, Bik L (1993) Changes in chalk-grassland structure and species richness resulting from selective nutrient additions. J Veg Sci 4:203–212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Wisskirchen R, Haeupler H (1998) Standardliste der Farn- und Blütenpflanzen Deutschlands. Ulmer, StuttgartGoogle Scholar
  68. Xu YQ, Li LH, Wang QB, Chen QS, Cheng WX (2007) The pattern between nitrogen mineralization and grazing intensities in an Inner Mongolian typical steppe. Plant Soil 300:289–300CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Till Kleinebecker
    • 1
  • Heidi Weber
    • 1
  • Norbert Hölzel
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Landscape EcologyUniversity of MünsterMünsterGermany

Personalised recommendations