Recovery of plant species composition and ecosystem function after cessation of grazing in a Mediterranean grassland

Carly Golodets*, Jaime Kigel, Marcelo Sternberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Short- and long-term changes in species composition, plant biomass production, and litter decomposition after cessation of grazing were examined in a Mediterranean grassland with high dominance of annual species and strong seasonality in biomass production. Short-term changes were assessed during three consecutive years in plots previously exposed to different grazing pressures and compared to plots in long-term (30-40 years) exclosures. Short-term cessation of grazing led in the short-term to an increase in relative biomass of annual crucifers and tall annual and perennial grasses, while biomass of annual legumes, annual thistles and short annual grasses decreased. Consequently, similarity increased between vegetation recently excluded from grazing and vegetation in long-term protected plots. Our research showed that in systems with high dominance of grasses and annual species, the rapid changes in plant species composition that occur after grazing cessation were associated with a fast recovery of the potential for biomass production to levels found in long-term protected plots, while litter decomposition rate did not change even after long-term cessation of grazing. Moreover, previous history of grazing did not affect plant litter decomposition, despite higher litter quality in grazed treatments. This study provides new insights about the processes involved in the diverse responses of ecosystem functions resulting from shifts in species composition associated with grazing cessation and land use change in Mediterranean grasslands.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)365-378
Number of pages14
JournalPlant and Soil
Volume329
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2010

Funding

FundersFunder number
European CommissionEVK2-2002-00356

    Keywords

    • Ecosystem function
    • Exclosures
    • Functional group
    • Grazing pressure
    • Land-use change
    • Litter decomposition
    • Litter quality
    • Organic matter

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