A test of naturalness indicator values to evaluate success in grassland restoration

Abstract

How should the somewhat vague term of restoration success be measured? This is a critical question rooted in European law, where in fact the creation of proper replacement habitats is a prerequisite for permitting projects that trigger a loss of species or habitats. Previous studies have used indices that relied on a comparison to reference sites, for example the number of a predefined pool of target species or compositional similarity. However, since restoration sites have rarely the same biotic and abiotic conditions as reference sites, plant communities in restored sites will not perfectly match the reference sites. Furthermore, such indices fail when reference sites are lacking or degraded. Hence, there is a need for an alternative approach that evaluates the conservation value of a restored site independently from reference sites. We propose that naturalness indicator values can be an option to measure restoration success. The approach of using naturalness indicator values makes use of the fact that plants are able to indicate environmental parameters, including degradation and regeneration. We compared and measured the restoration success of three well-established methods for grassland restoration (sod transplantation, hay transfer, seeding) with three commonly used indices (diversity, number of target species, similarity to reference sites). The results verified earlier studies and showed that sod transplantation led to the highest restoration success followed by hay transfer and seeding of sitespecific seed mixtures. Further, we used those well-established indices for an evaluation of novel, naturalness-based indices (unweighted and cover-weighted mean naturalness indicator values, the sum of naturalness indicator values). While calculating the means of naturalness indicator values failed to offer conclusive information on restoration success, we could show that the sum of naturalness indicator values was highly correlated with the number of target species and compositional similarity to reference sites. Thus, our case study demonstrated that naturalness indices can be an excellent option to estimate success in grassland restoration.

Abbreviations

CWMNN:

Cover-weighted mean Naturalness indicator values

DSH:

Donor site for hay transfer

DSS:

Donor site for sod transplantation

FPFI:

Frequency positive fidelity index (Tichý 2005)

Simpson:

Simpson’s Index

SUMNN:

Sum of Naturalness indicator values

TGSpN:

Number of target species

UWMNN:

Unweighted Mean Naturalness indicator values

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Sengl, P., Magnes, M., Erdős, L. et al. A test of naturalness indicator values to evaluate success in grassland restoration. COMMUNITY ECOLOGY 18, 184–192 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1556/168.2017.18.2.8

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Keywords

  • Compensation measures
  • Hay transfer
  • Passive restoration
  • Seeding
  • Sod transplantation