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Reintroduction of large herbivores restored plant species richness in abandoned dry temperate grassland

Abstract

Naturalistic grazing by large herbivores is an increasingly practiced way of managing habitats with conservational value. It has the potential to restore and enhance biodiversity, creating self-sustainable environments vital for organisms requiring regular disturbances to moderate and/or reverse successional changes. European bison, Exmoor pony, and Tauros cattle were introduced in 2015 to a former military training area in Milovice, Czech Republic. The prevailing vegetation type is a forest-steppe savanna with Bromus erectus-dominated xeric grasslands mixed with deciduous shrubs and trees. After the cessation of military use, the area was abandoned which led to successional changes, including the dominance of tall grasses, litter accumulation, and bush encroachment. In 2017–2021, we monitored grassland vegetation in 30 grazed permanent plots (2 × 2 m) and 5 control plots representative of ungrazed, abandoned vegetation adjacent to the grazed areas. Naturalistic grazing increased species richness and the cover of forbs, while the cover of grasses and legumes was minimally affected. Grazing increased functional diversity of plant community, promoted a compositional change to small statured species and an increased incidence of red-list species. Seven years of continuous grazing increased the conservation value of this forest-steppe vegetation, a habitat type rapidly declining in Europe.

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Acknowledgements

This study was supported by the Project no. 20-08900S funded by the Czech Science Foundation, by long-term research development project No. RVO 67985939 of the Czech Academy of Sciences. The refaunation project was supported by the EU Operational Programme Environment (CZ.1.02/6.2.00/13.21986, CZ.7.02/6.2.00/15.29686), by the Central Bohemia regional government (S-2140/OŽP/2014, S-3815/OŽP/2015, S-15873/OŽP/2016, S-2325/OŽP/2018, S-8570/OŽP/2018), and by the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS, Funder ID: https://doi.org/10.13039/501100004240) within the programmes of the Strategy AV 21 (Land conservation and restoration), and Regional Cooperation between the Regions and the CAS Institutes in 2017–2019 (R200961701). MD is grateful to the Martina Roeselová Memorial Fellowship for financial encouragement. Sincere thanks go to Dalibor Dostál, Česká krajina o.p.s./European wildlife NGO for logistics and general support, as well as to the Milovice municipality, Central Bohemia Region government, and Nature Conservation Agency of the Czech Republic for provision of land for the Milovice Grazing Preserve. We thank Adam Taylor Ruka for linguistic improvements.

Funding

The study was supported by project no. 20-08900S funded by the Czech Science Foundation, by long-term research development project No. RVO 67985939 of the Czech Academy of Sciences. The refaunation project was supported by the EU Operational Programme Environment (CZ.1.02/6.2.00/13.21986, CZ.7.02/6.2.00/15.29686), by the Central Bohemia regional government (S-2140/OŽP/2014, S-3815/OŽP/2015, S-15873/OŽP/2016, S-2325/OŽP/2018, S-8570/OŽP/2018), and by the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS, Funder ID: https://doi.org/10.13039/501100004240) within the programmes of the Strategy AV 21 (Land conservation and restoration), and Regional Cooperation between the Regions and the CAS Institutes in 2017–2019 (R200961701). MD is grateful to the Martina Roeselová Memorial Fellowship for financial encouragement.

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All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation, data collection, and analysis were performed by OM and MD. The first draft of the manuscript was written by Miroslav Dvorský and OM and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Miroslav Dvorský.

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Communicated by Marjan Jongen.

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Dvorský, M., Mudrák, O., Doležal, J. et al. Reintroduction of large herbivores restored plant species richness in abandoned dry temperate grassland. Plant Ecol 223, 525–535 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-022-01225-w

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-022-01225-w

Keywords

  • Conservation management
  • Functional traits
  • Naturalistic grazing
  • Vegetation change