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Research article2020Peer reviewedOpen access

Site factors are more important than management for indicator species in semi-natural grasslands in southern Sweden

Milberg, Per; Bergman, Karl-Olof; Glimskar, Anders; Nilsson, Sigrid; Talle, Malin


Management of semi-natural grasslands is essential to retain the characteristic diversity of flora and fauna found in these habitats. To maintain, restore or recreate favourable conditions for grassland species, knowledge regarding how they occur in relation to grazing intensity and soil nutrient availability is crucial. We focused on grassland plant species, i.e., species selected to indicate high natural values in semi-natural grasslands. Environmental monitoring data collected at 366 grassland sites in southern Sweden between 2006 and 2010 were used to relate the occurrence of indicator species to factors describing geographic location, local site conditions related to nutrients and moisture, and management. Site productivity, soil moisture and cover of trees and shrubs were the main structuring factors, while other factors related to management had a lesser effect (grass sward height, amount of litter, type of grazer). Not surprisingly, these patterns were also reflected in species-wise analyses of the 25 most commonly occurring indicator species, with almost all species negatively related to site productivity and most also to soil moisture. Furthermore, many species were negatively affected by increasing sward height and litter. In contrast, species-wise responses varied among species in relation to increasing cover of trees and shrubs. In comparison to cattle grazing, sheep grazing was detrimental to six species and beneficial to none, while horse grazing was detrimental to no species and beneficial to four species. When evaluating species traits, taller plant species were favoured when site productivity, grass sward height and the amount of grass litter were high. There were no strong patterns related to the flowering time, leaf arrangement, or nutrient and light requirements of species. These results highlight the importance of nutrient-poor and dry sites, e.g., when selecting sites for conservation, and the importance of the type of management executed.


Grassland; Plants; Indicator species; Nutrients; Soil moisture; Grazing; Sweden

Published in

Plant Ecology
2020, Volume: 221, pages: 577-594
Publisher: SPRINGER

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