Long-term success of floodplain meadow restoration on species-poor grassland




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Restoration of floodplain meadows remains a challenge, as many degraded sites suffer from seed limitation. The transfer of seed-containing plant material from species-rich donor sites is a widely used method to restore semi-natural grasslands. However, most studies on the success of such restoration projects comprise limited time frames. As factors determining restoration success may only become evident after many years, long-term observations are crucial. We re-investigated 20 restored grassland sites in the floodplain of the Northern Upper Rhine 13–16 years after plant material transfer with different soil preparation treatments. To this end, we carried out vegetation surveys on 254 permanent plots and studied the potential influence of soil preparation, soil nutrients, and hydrology on plant species composition, diversity, and transfer of target species. Since sustainable agricultural use is important to ensure the long-term stability of restored semi-natural grasslands, we further investigated biomass productivity and feeding value. While most target species increased in frequency or remained stable over time, we found no positive long-term effect of soil preparation on vegetation development and target species establishment. Instead, increased biomass yield and flooding frequency led to reduced restoration success, while higher soil C/N ratios had a positive effect. Overall, restoration measures did not affect the agricultural value of the restored grasslands, which had higher dry matter biomass yields compared with the donor sites. Our results indicate that the positive effect of soil preparation on the number and cover of target species, which is regularly reported in short-term studies, diminishes over time, and other factors such as site conditions become increasingly important. Furthermore, additional plant material transfer or manual seeding may be necessary to support target species establishment. Concerning agricultural usability, the integration of restored floodplain meadows in farming systems is possible and can ensure long-term management and thus stability of these ecosystems. Our study shows that long-term monitoring of restoration projects is necessary, as factors determining restoration success may only become evident in the long-term.




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Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 10 (2023), 1 - 15, 1061484




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