Topsoil removal enhances plant target species occurrence in sandy calcareous grassland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Species-rich sandy calcareous grasslands are threatened by land use change, eutrophication and acidification. Disturbance is vital for the persistence of characteristic sandy calcareous grassland species because it provides habitats with low competition, and can lead to increased pH and decreased nutrient availability, which favour many threatened species. Today many sandy calcareous grasslands lack a proper disturbance regime. The outcome of topsoil removal, applied as restoration measure, was investigated in a multi-site study. Successful restoration was associated with colonisation of plants representing conservation target species, as well as increased pH and reduced amounts of nutrients and organic matter. The impact of topsoil removal on plant species composition and soil properties was examined, with adjacent degraded plots serving as controls. Non-degraded target vegetation was included as reference areas. Restored plots had a significantly higher mean proportion of target species compared to control plots. However, control plots had higher species richness. Topsoil removal increased the pH value and decreased contents of ammonium and organic matter in the newly established topsoil layer, while no effect was seen on nitrate, phosphate and lime. Restored plots had a high cover of bare sand, but in contrast to target plots, a rather low proportion of forbs in relation to graminoids. Control plots had a higher vegetation cover, mainly represented by graminoids, forbs and the dwarf shrub species Calluna vulgaris (L.) Hull. Our study suggests that topsoil removal is an effective restoration measure due to its positive influence on soil characteristics and target species. However, the degraded sandy grasslands that were chosen as controls in this study should also be recognised as important habitats with conservation values due to the high species richness, suggesting that a mosaic pattern of the different successional stages is desirable.

Details

Authors
Organisations
External organisations
  • Lund University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Ecology

Keywords

  • Calcareous, Grassland restoration, Sandy grassland, Soil nutrients, Soil pH, Species diversity
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-15
Number of pages9
JournalFlora: Morphology, Distribution, Functional Ecology of Plants
Volume256
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes