Relationships between plant diversity, vegetation cover, and site conditions: implications for grassland conservation in the Greater Caucasus

Wiesmair, Martin; Otte, Annette; Waldhardt, Rainer
February 2017
Biodiversity & Conservation;Feb2017, Vol. 26 Issue 2, p273
Academic Journal
Overgrazing, land use abandonment and increasing recreational activities have altered the vegetation of high-montane and subalpine grassland of the Caucasus. The failure of previous restoration efforts with unsuitable and exotic plant species indicates the need for information on the present vegetation and in which way it might change. Within the Greater Caucasus, we have described and quantified the mountain grassland which develops under characteristic overgrazed and eroded site conditions. Further, we have proposed potential native plant species for revegetation to restore and conserve valuable mountain grassland habitats. We used non-metric dimensional scaling ordination and cluster comparison of functional plant groups to describe a gradient of grassland vegetation cover. For our study region, we identified four major vegetation types with increasing occurrence of ruderal pasture weeds and tall herb vegetation on abandoned hay meadows within the subalpine zone. Within high-montane grassland a decline of plant diversity can be observed on sites of reduced vegetation cover. Due to a low potential of the grassland ecosystem to balance further vegetation cover damage, the long-term loss of diverse habitats can be expected. We conclude with management recommendations to prevent erosion and habitat loss of precious mountain grasslands.


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