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When Has an Abandoned Field Become a Semi-Natural Grassland or Heathland?

Abstract

This study presents a meta-analysis of a collective dataset describing the succession from abandoned fields to semi-natural grassland and heathland vegetation over the past century. The study objectives were to develop a method for statistical discrimination between abandoned fields and semi-natural habitats and to analyze the probability that an abandoned field had developed into a semi-natural habitat. A statistical classification model was developed, based on lists of vascular plants from 2059 plots from Danish semi-natural grasslands and heathlands, and abandoned fields of varying age. This model was shown to discriminate effectively between abandoned fields and semi-natural habitats, and it was found to be potentially useful for the detection of abandoned fields approaching semi-natural vegetation. We suggest that the model may help clarify restoration targets and assess biological condition in formerly cultivated areas. Statistical modeling revealed that succession age, period of abandonment and succession trajectory had significant effects on the probability that abandoned fields reached the semi-natural phase. Our study indicates that restoration projects targeting grassland and heathland should take local species pools and soil fertility into account.

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Acknowledgments

Odd Stabbetorp and Harald Bratli are acknowledged for valuable discussions during model development. This research was funded primarily by Nordic Council of Ministers and a grant to the first author from the Danish Research Councils. Fondazione Aage V. Jensen is thanked for a peaceful place to finish the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Rasmus Ejrnæs.

Additional information

Nomenclature: Species names follow Flora Europaea (Tutin and others 1964–1993).

Appendices

Appendix A

A summary of included studies. Year of inventory and number of samples in the three classes is shown

Data source Year(s) of inventory Grassland samples Heathland samples Abandoned field samples
DANVEG, grassland data 1945–1994 614   
DANVEG, heathland data 1910–2000   904  
DANVEG, abandoned fields 1930–2000    207
Bruun and Ejrnæs (Unpublished) 1992    21
Holst (1987) 1986    69
Ferdinandsen (1918) 1913 2   53
Gregersen and de Muckadell (Unpublished) 2000    51
Frandsen (Unpublished) 1999    48
Aude and others (2002) 2000 3   36
Degn (Unpublished) 1982–2001    19
Mogensen (Unpublished) 1993    13
Frederiksborg Amt (Unpublished) 1999–2001 1   9
Jessen (1968) incl. data from Wiinstedt (1938) 1933–1960    7

Appendix B

The development in use of fertilizers in Danish agriculture during the 20th century. The light blue line shows the amount of organic fertilizer (manure), the dark blue line the amount of artificial fertilizer. Both are quantified as kilotons of nitrogen. The three periods used for the meta-analysis is indicated on the graph. From: Anon 2000. Miljøvurdering af finanslovsforslaget for 2001. Finansministeriet. (In Danish).

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Ejrnæs, R., Liira, J., Poulsen, R.S. et al. When Has an Abandoned Field Become a Semi-Natural Grassland or Heathland?. Environmental Management 42, 707–716 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-008-9183-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-008-9183-6

Keywords

  • Artificial neural networks
  • Habitat quality
  • Old-field
  • Restoration
  • Secondary succession
  • Supervised classification