Restoration of plant diversity in permanent grassland by seeding: Assessing the limiting factors along land‐use gradients

Freitag, Martin; Klaus, Valentin H.; Bolliger, Ralph; Hamer, Ute; Kleinebecker, Till; Prati, Daniel; Schäfer, Deborah; Hölzel, Norbert (2021). Restoration of plant diversity in permanent grassland by seeding: Assessing the limiting factors along land‐use gradients. Journal of applied ecology, 58(8), pp. 1681-1692. Wiley 10.1111/1365-2664.13883

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Land-use intensification has caused dramatic declines in grassland biodiversity, and in Europe this decline has not yet been halted. Therefore, a major challenge in ecological restoration is to effectively restore plant diversity in permanent grasslands, that is, long-term managed grassland not being used as cropland. As species richness is often limited by seed dispersal, introducing locally absent species is crucial. Seeding diverse seed mixtures is an appropriate tool, but restoration outcomes are highly variable. Considering constraints by land-use intensity and plant functional traits during restoration could improve the efficacy of restoration efforts.
We established a full-factorial experiment with high-diversity seeding and topsoil disturbance in 73 grasslands along land-use intensity and productivity gradients and evaluated the restoration success over 5 years. In addition, after 5 years we assessed the number of established species and tested whether specific traits promoted the establishment of sown species in interaction with productivity.
Plant diversity increased considerably when seeding and disturbance were combined while seeding alone only slightly increased species richness. Along land-use gradients, we found no direct effects of grazing or mowing on the establishment of sown species, but fertilization indirectly limited establishment in the combined treatment via a negative effect of productivity.
Functional traits structured the establishment of sown species, especially in the combined treatments, but effects varied with productivity. Species with low seed mass and low specific leaf area had greater establishment success in low-productivity grasslands, whereas species with high seed mass had greater establishment in high-productivity grasslands.
Synthesis and applications. Our results highlight the potential of using diverse seed mixtures for biodiversity restoration in a wide range of permanent grasslands, especially when combined with topsoil disturbance. However, productivity both limited restoration success and affected establishment via an interaction with plant functional traits. As productivity is a major constraint in grassland restoration, we strongly recommend to first stop fertilization and reduce soil nutrient loads in highly productive grasslands. Restoration by seeding, with or without disturbance, should only be applied when productivity is reduced and the local environment should be considered to compile site-specific seed mixtures to maximize restoration success.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


13 Central Units > Administrative Director's Office > Botanical Garden
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:

Bolliger, Ralph Frédéric, Prati, Daniel, Schäfer, Deborah


500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)








Peter Alfred von Ballmoos-Haas

Date Deposited:

02 Aug 2021 11:42

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:52

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

dispersal limitation; fertilization; functional traits; land-use intensity; productivity; seed addition; seedling establishment; trait–environment interactions




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