Grassland management in Germany: effects on plant diversity and vegetation composition

Gilhaus, Kristin; Boch, Steffen; Fischer, Markus; Hoelzel, Norbert; Kleinebecker, Till; Prati, Daniel; Rupprecht, Denise; Schmitt, Barbara; Klaus, Valentin H. (2017). Grassland management in Germany: effects on plant diversity and vegetation composition. Tuexenia, 37, pp. 379-397. Floristisch-soziologische Arbeitsgemeinschaft e.V. (FlorSoz) 10.14471/2017.37.010

[img] Text
2017_Tuexenia_37_379.pdf - Published Version
Restricted to registered users only
Available under License Publisher holds Copyright.

Download (918kB) | Request a copy

The vast majority of European grasslands strongly depend on the regular removal of aboveground biomass by agricultural land use, mostly grazing or mowing or a combination of both. These specific management schemes have strong influence on plant diversity and vegetation composition, depending on their particular characteristics and their intensity. For example, the presence or absence of fertilization will favour some species over others, changing plant communities accordingly. Additionally, the farmer's choice of a specific management scheme will also depend on the abiotic site conditions. This leads to a complex set of associated factors potentially affecting the structure and diversity of grasslands. In this study, we compiled a unique dataset of 169 differently managed grasslands (in total 202 plots), which were sampled in five regions across Germany. For each plot, we documented management characteristics, measured plant diversity and functional group composition, recorded endangered species according to red lists, and calculated Ellenberg indicator values. We assessed patterns in vegetation composition and diversity in relation to the particular management scheme, which was categorized as meadow, meadow with autumn or winter grazing (with mowing as predominant management), mown pasture (where mowing and grazing are used at roughly equal intensity), seasonal pasture (with grazing as predominant management) and year-round pasture. Our study showed that grasslands of different management schemes significantly differed in diversity, structure and functional composition. However, it also became obvious that vegetation composition was not strictly distinguished by management alone. Local and regional characteristics such as soil conditions, size of the grassland species pool or land-use history, often played a more prominent role than land use alone. Assumingly, the interplay of those local and regional characteristics with the pro portion of grazing and mowing at a particular site inhibit clear differences among our predefined management schemes. Nevertheless, species richness was the lowest in year-round pastures, moderate in meadows and highest in seasonal pastures. In contrast, year-round pastures harboured the highest mean numbers of endangered species. The dependency of a certain management scheme on site-specific environmental factors such as soil fertility, further complicated the clear separation of management effects from those of the environmental background. In summary, modern grassland management strongly shaped grassland vegetation, but today's combination of different management practices complicated the assessment of specific land-use effects on plant diversity. Thus, neither mowing nor grazing turned out to be ``the one and only'' management for nature conservation. Although our results challenge long-term prognoses for future vegetation development under modern grassland management, we clearly showed that low-intensity management and the absence of fertilization promoted plant diversity, with higher values in pastures compared to meadows and mown pastures.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS) > Plant Ecology
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS)

UniBE Contributor:

Boch, Steffen, Fischer, Markus, Prati, Daniel, Schmitt, Barbara


500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)




Floristisch-soziologische Arbeitsgemeinschaft e.V. (FlorSoz)




Peter Alfred von Ballmoos-Haas

Date Deposited:

21 Nov 2017 11:24

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:07

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

endangered plant species; fertilization; grassland conservation; grazing; mowing; productivity




Actions (login required)

Edit item Edit item
Provide Feedback