Restorative removal of plant litter and vegetation 40 years after abandonment enhances re-emergence of steppe grassland vegetation

  • Published source details Ruprecht E., Enyedi M.Z., Eckstein R.L. & Donath T.W. (2010) Restorative removal of plant litter and vegetation 40 years after abandonment enhances re-emergence of steppe grassland vegetation. Biological Conservation, 143, 449-456.


European semi-natural grassland evolved in response to long-term anthropogenic activities, such as livestock grazing and cutting for hay. Abandonment of such traditional management may lead to loss of plant diversity through accumulation of litter and domination by a few competitive species. In this study, treatments aimed at restoration of long-term abandoned dry steppe grassland at Suatu (46°79′N, 23°97′E) and Puini (46°91′N, 24°04′E) in Cluj county (Romania) were tested.

Both study sites comprised previously grazed pasture abandoned about 40 years earlier. In April 2006, two treatments were applied to1 x 1 m plots (and a 0.5 m wide buffer strip) replicated twice in each of four blocks per site (random block design). Treatments were: litter removal (by raking), and litter removal with vegetation cut (to 5 cm) and clippings removed. Each block included two control plots (litter and vegetation left). Treatments were repeated in March 2007.
The treatments aimed to create open microsites (bare soil) and to activate the seed bank to enhance recruitment of dry-grassland species. Seedling counts were undertaken in two 25 x 25 cm subplots per plot at about monthly intervals from April to October in both years.

Both treatments significantly increased seedling recruitment by enhancing seed germination in the first year (average cumulative number of seedlings per treatment: control 30; litter removal 35; litter removal and cutting 40). However, only litter removal with cutting significantly promoted seedling survival during both years.
Over the 2 years 72 grassland species were recorded. Five species formerly not present in the established vegetation emerged, importantly, three of which are rare grassland herbs of high nature conservation value (a spurge Euphorbia seguierana, a speedwell Veronica prostrata and Cephalaria uralensis).
The trial demonstrates that even after 40 years of abandonment, re-emergence of target species very rare or absent from the above-ground vegetation, could be induced by litter removal combined with cutting.

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