Using vegetation dynamics to face the challenge of the conservation status assessment in semi-natural habitats

Abstract

The conservation of semi-natural habitats represents a primary challenge for European nature conservation due to their great species diversity and their vulnerability to ongoing massive land-use changes. As these changes rapidly transform and phase out semi-natural habitats, conservation measures should be prompt and specifically focused on a sound assessment of the degree of conservation. Here we develop a methodological strategy for the assessment of the degree of conservation of semi-natural grasslands based on well-defined criteria rather than on expert opinion. Through mixed effect models, we tested ten potential indicators, encompassing proxies of species composition, habitat structure, and landscape patterns, against a measure of compositional change from habitat favourable condition, i.e., an inverse proxy of conservation status. This measure derives from the re-visitation of 132 sampling units historically sampled between 1966 and 1992 along the Apennines. The compositional change was quantified as the dissimilarity between historical habitat species pools and the composition of current communities. The compositional change was significantly related to the number of habitat diagnostic species and the relative cover of woody species with opposite sign (positive and negative, respectively). We classified and combined the classes of these two indicators in each sampling unit to assess the habitat degree of conservation at the plot and at the Natura 2000 site level. At the plot level, our assessment was in good agreement with the occurrence of species of conservation concern. On the other hand, at the site level, our assessment was not always harmonic with the habitat conservation assessment officially reported for the site investigated.

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Correspondence to Emanuela Carli.

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This peer-reviewed contribution is from the European Vegetation Survey working group established in 1992 by Alessandro Pignatti and colleagues in Rome.

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Carli, E., Giarrizzo, E., Burrascano, S. et al. Using vegetation dynamics to face the challenge of the conservation status assessment in semi-natural habitats. Rend. Fis. Acc. Lincei 29, 363–374 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12210-018-0707-6

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Keywords

  • Calcareous grasslands
  • Habitat 6210
  • Habitats Directive
  • Condition indicators
  • Re-survey
  • Habitat monitoring