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A six-year experimental restoration of biodiversity by shrub-clearing and grazing in calcareous grasslands of the French Prealps

Abstract

The conservation of dry calcareous grasslands in the French Prealps strongly depends on the maintenance of low-intensity farming systems supported by agri-environmental schemes. An experimental assessment of the effect of current agro-pastoral management on the biodiversity of plant communities was conducted during a six-year permanent plot survey in four sites with contrasting habitat conditions (mesic to xeric). Analyses of species changes showed: (i) a strong increase in species richness and open grassland species frequencies four years after shrub-clearing, and (ii) a noticeable recovery of rare annuals and perennial species of conservation interest establishing in gaps created by grazing. At the community level, the restoration effect was evaluated by a between-year Correspondence Analysis, explaining 10.9% of the total floristic variability versus 29.5% for the site effect (between-site CA). Species ordination by between-year CA showed similar trajectories of vegetation changes during restoration despite different habitat conditions and grazing regimes between sites. The successful restoration of prealpine calcareous grasslands was explained by the availability of seed sources during the study in adjacent grazed or mown grasslands. Thus, restoration assessment should focus on dispersal possibilities and functional roles of species rather than species richness only. Finally, the spatial (i.e. the area of patches that need to be restored) and temporal (i.e. the frequency of shrub-clearing) implications for the large-scale conservation of prealpine calcareous grasslands by current agro-pastoral management are discussed.

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Barbaro, L., Dutoit, T. & Cozic, P. A six-year experimental restoration of biodiversity by shrub-clearing and grazing in calcareous grasslands of the French Prealps. Biodiversity and Conservation 10, 119–135 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1016629507196

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1016629507196

  • biodiversity
  • calcareous grasslands
  • grazing
  • restoration
  • shrub-clearing