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Differential responses of abandoned wet grassland plant communities to reinstated cutting management

Abstract

The nature of ecological stability is still debated, and there is a need to establish which types of communities show resistance to environmental change and to explore community responses in relation to their environmental context. This study aims to investigate the effects of reinstating cutting management on abandoned wet grasslands by comparing responses in two different communities with contrasting environmental conditions, to elucidate the restoration potential of wet grasslands. Two coastal wet grassland plant communities in Estonia were monitored over 5 years: a species-poor lower shore grassland and a more diverse tall grassland. Piezometers and soil samples were used to characterise the hydrology, while cutting effects and ongoing abandonment were compared using replicate quadrats in both grasslands. Annual changes and significant differences in community composition were analysed using Detrended and Canonical Correspondence Analyses, diversity indices, and inferential statistics. The results showed that cutting produced greater changes in composition and species abundance in the lower shore community compared to the tall grassland, including a greater proportion of significant differences. The increased responsiveness of the lower shore community may be related to its variable hydrological regime, especially flooding, which creates a dynamic environment favouring adaptable species. In contrast, the tall grassland featured a more stable water regime and species that responded less to perturbation, and manifested resistance to cutting management. Thus, restoring abandoned wet grasslands through vegetation management may be a slow process, especially where there is residual diversity, and the importance of hydrological regime in determining wet grassland communities should be considered.

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Acknowledgments

The study was funded by the Darwin Initiative (Project Reference Number 162/13/013) and the Earthwatch Institute. The authors would particularly like to thank Elle Puurmann and Silvia Lotman for their support and assistance in Estonia.

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Correspondence to Chris Joyce.

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Guest editor: Chris B. Joyce / Wetland services and management

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Berg, M., Joyce, C. & Burnside, N. Differential responses of abandoned wet grassland plant communities to reinstated cutting management. Hydrobiologia 692, 83–97 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10750-011-0826-x

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10750-011-0826-x

Keywords

  • Abandonment
  • Ecological stability
  • Diversity
  • Management
  • Restoration
  • Wetland