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Free Content Grazing impact on plant spatial distribution and community composition

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Background and aims – Re-introduction of large grazers in the few remaining natural and semi-natural grasslands are thought to be an effective management tool to prevent dominance of late successional plant species and restoration of plant biodiversity. The main objective of this study was to test whether the introduction of large herbivores retard the succession by reducing the abundance of highly competitive tall species and whether it is accompanied with changes in plant community composition and spatial distribution of plant species.

Methods – In order to test this hypothesis, we studied the effect of grazing by large herbivores on vegetation at three hierarchical levels: individual plant species, emergent groups of functionally similar herbaceous plant species, and the main gradients of plant community composition. Study sites were thirteen spatially separated, dry coastal dune grasslands in western Belgium and north-western France.

Key results – Grazing had a predominantly negative effect on high competitive dominant species and led to changes in composition of emergent groups toward less competitive plant species. Additionally, these changes in plant community composition were accompanied with changes in spatial distribution patterns of individual plant species and community richness.

Conclusions – Our results suggest that the current grazing management applied in these nature reserves is able to prevent the expansion of dominant highly competitive species and establishment of functionally different plant species.

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Document Type: Regular Paper

Publication date: March 1, 2011

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