Effects of climate and management on the productivity of Dutch heathlands

  • Published source details Diemont W.H. & Oude Voshaar J.H. (1994) Effects of climate and management on the productivity of Dutch heathlands. Journal of Applied Ecology, 31, 709-716.


Burning and turf-cutting are both traditional management techniques undertaken to maintain an early successional state on Dutch heathlands, although the latter has been mostly abandoned as the work required is to labour intensive. Effects of burning and turf-cutting treatments on the productivity of heather Calluna vulgaris heathlands and implications for management were studied on a climatologically dry heath and two relatively wet heathlands in the Netherlands.

Study sites: Study sites were selected in three areas of the Netherlands: relatively wet sites at Dwingeloose Heide (52º248'N, 6º20'E) and Hoge Veluwe (52º9'N, 5º35'E), and a climatologically dry site at Strabrechtse Heide (51º23'N, 5º35'E), all on podzol soils.

The sites were selected as they had: sufficient age classes of vegetation previously subjected to burning or turf-cutting; reflected the range of climatic conditions in the Netherlands; were on similar soils; and had pure stands of heather.

Data collection: Productivity for specific site-treatment combinations was assessed from age-sequences of the above-ground biomass in sample plots in Calluna stands of different age-classes, and from indirect as well as direct estimates of the above-ground annual production in 1979 and 1980.

After correcting for age differences, biomass for plots subjected to turf-cutting was lower by a factor of 0.57 than in burned stands. The biomass in Strabrecht was lower by a factor of 0.81 compared to Dwingeloo and Hoge Veluwe. Differences in productivity between burned heathlands were probably due to climatic differences.

Maximum indirect estimates of the annual production for burned heathland at Dwingeloo/Hoge Veluwe and at Strabrecht were 257 and 209 g/m²/year, respectively and, for stands subjected to turf-cutting, 147 and 119 g/m²/year respectively.

All variation in biomass which is explained by site, and most explained by treatment, were accounted for by the quantity of litter/humus present in the soil profile.

Conclusions: The lowere productivity in turf-cut compared to burned heathland, is probably due to more effective removal of litter, humus and associated nutrients. However burning may remove nearly as much nitrogen as turf-cutting. However phorphorus is less depleted by fire, which limits productivity on Dutch heaths on podzols.

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