Semi-dry grasslands were once widely distributed communities, but today they represent some of the most vulnerable habitats in Central Europe. European and national legislation and non-governmental organizations have managed to protect some of the remaining fragments. However, despite their status as Natura 2000 habitats, they are often endangered due to improper management, fragmentation and edge effects from adjacent croplands. By using a sample of 44 semi-dry hay mead-ows in the south-eastern Alpine Foreland of Styria, we investigated how species-richness and trait composition of semi-dry grassland species respond to variation in patch size, connectivity, abiotic site factors and management regimes. We used linear regression models to identify the most important drivers for richness of typical semi-dry grassland species and thus conservation value. The number of typical semi-dry grassland species was highest in well-connected fragments, i.e. units that shared two or more borders with neighbouring species-rich grasslands. Furthermore, large semi-dry grasslands (> 8000 m²) had highest numbers of semi-dry grassland species and highest relevance for conservation; no difference was found among smaller fragment sizes. Unregular management was associated with increased presence of competitive species which replaced stress-tolerant specialists. Our study indicates that under eutrophication, small fragment size and isolation, only large semi-dry grasslands can sustain a high number of species with high conservation value. The conservation value of smaller semi-dry grassland fragments could be improved by buffer zones, adapted mowing treatments and periodical sheep grazing.
Sengl P., Magnes M., Wagner V. et al.: Only large and highly-connected semi-dry grasslands... (2016)
Sengl P., Magnes M., Wagner V., Erdős L., Berg C.
Only large and highly-connected semi-dry grasslands achieve plant conservation targets in an agricultural matrix.
Tuexenia 36: 167-190.
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