Evaluating the transplantation of a meadow in the Harz Mountains, Germany

  • Published source details Bruelheide H. & Flintrop T. (2000) Evaluating the transplantation of a meadow in the Harz Mountains, Germany. Biological Conservation, 92, 109-120.


Large-scale transplantations are sometimes used in an attempt to preserve ecosystems which would have otherwise been destroyed by development projects. Such transplantations, aim to move a proportion of all inhabiting organisms from the original site (donor) to a new area (receptor site). One transplantation method, termed macroturfing, involves moving whole soil profiles to a depth of 0.3-0.5 m. In this study, the effectiveness of macroturf transplantation of a floristically important montane meadow, which contained 18 species of regionally threatened plant which was to be destroyed by road construction, is evaluated.

Donor & receptor sites: The receptor site was selected 200 m west of the donor site. It had the same bedrock (diabase) and was a montane grassland in the early 1900's, before it was afforested with spruce. However, the spruce needle litter had acidified the topsoil to pH 3.7, whereas the donor site was pH 5-6. Consequently, the entire soil was removed to a depth of 0.5 m, leaving bare bedrock upon which the meadow turf was to be laid.

Transplantation technique: The meadow was cut in August to enhance seed dispersal prior to transplanting. Between May and July 1993, an area of 4,186 mĀ² of meadow was removed and transplanted at the receptor site using a bulldozer with an excavating shovel that allowed transfer of 2.2 m x 1.25 m x 0.5 m pieces meadow turf and soil directly to the receptor site (300-600 m from the donor site). The shovel contained a hydraulic device that pushed the blocks of soil and turf from the flat bottom of the shovel, allowing exact set down.

Monitoring: All plant species present were counted before transplantation in 1992 and again four year later. More specifically, the population of each of the 18 threatened plant species (in the red data book for Lower Saxony) was ascertained in a 5 x 5 m grid at the donor site, and then in 122 (of the total 208) grid cells that were transplanted. Population size was recorded by counting the number of individuals (when less than 20) or estimating cover (when there were over 20 individuals).

Total flora: Of 62 vascular plants present in the donor population during 1992, three species had disappeared by 1996: meadow foxtail Alopecurus pratensis, heath cudweed Gnaphalium sylvaticum and ragged robin Lychnis flos-cuculi. In contrast, 17 new species were present by 1996, an overall species increase of 23% (to 76 species). However, most of the new species were pioneers and they occurred only at the edge of the meadow.

Population size of threatened species: Of the 18 threatened species, four increased in numbers, twelve responded to transplantation indifferently, and two decreased after transplantation (see Table 1). The two species which declined the most, yellow-rattle Rhinanthus minor and wild pansy Viola tricolour, are associated with bare soil within meadows which had declined because late mowing has promoted the growth of a dense herb layer.

Conclusions: The transplanting was a success so far as of the 18 regionally threatened plant species present in the turf, most increased or responded indifferently, and the two which declined probably did so as a result of changes in the mowing regime rather than in response to the transplanting. Also, new pioneer species were restricted to the edge of the transplanted meadow, thus had little on the plant community as a whole.

Note: If using or referring to this published study please read and quote the original paper. This is available from Please do not quote as a case as this is for previously unpublished work only.

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