Organic farming, vegetation restoration and survey

Authors


(corresponding author, chytry@sci.muni.cz)

Editor's Award for 2012

It is a tradition in Applied Vegetation Science that, at the beginning of each year, the Chief Editors, partly based on the nominations received from Associate Editors, grant an award to an outstanding paper published in the journal in the previous year. The Editors' Award for 2012 goes to Laura Armengot for the paper “The β-diversity of arable weed communities on organic and conventional cereal farms in two contrasting regions” (Armengot et al. 2012).

The species diversity of weed vegetation on European arable land has declined dramatically over the last few decades. Unlike other vegetation types, weed vegetation cannot be protected in nature reserves, but a reasonable chance for survival of species-rich weed communities and endangered weed species is in organic farms, currently supported by European agri-environmental programmes. Diversity comparisons between organic and conventional farms have traditionally focused on local species richness (alpha-diversity), but the Göttingen University's Agroecology group, in which Laura Armengot did her study, recently emphasized the importance of beta-diversity in their research on German arable land (Roschewitz et al. 2005; Gabriel et al. 2006). Armengot et al. (2012) extended these studies to the Mediterranean region (Spain) and compared the results with patterns existing in the temperate zone (Germany). Besides consistently higher alpha-diversity on organic farms, they revealed that in both regions beta-diversity (compositional difference between the site and the farm, and between the farm and the region) was also higher in organic farms. As the weed flora of both regions was very different, this result suggests the possible existence of a general pattern across Europe. It is a signal for environmental policy-making that for effective conservation of endangered weeds, the focus on organic farming should be extended from the currently dominating field- or farm-scale to landscape scale. As courtesy of our publishers, Laura Armengot receives Wiley-Blackwell books of her choice at the total price of £100 and will be featured on the web sites of the journal and the International Association for Vegetation Science (IAVS).

There were other nominations for the Editor's Award. Velle et al. (2012) studied the regeneration potential of old and young heaths in Norway. Post-fire succession in heathlands is a classical research topic of plant community ecology (Gimingham 1972), but in some cases existing knowledge is still insufficient to make valid recommendations for ecological restoration projects. A general decline of traditional heathland farming has resulted in decreased fire frequencies and it is unknown whether prescribed burning can be used as an effective tool for restoration of old heathlands, especially those at northern latitudes or high altitudes. Velle et al. (2012) demonstrated that not only young, but also long-abandoned heathlands can be successfully restored by burning, which is good news for nature conservation.

Hofmeister et al. (2012) asked whether 15N/14N isotope ratio (δ15N signature) in oak leaves, used as an indicator of ecosystem nutrient status (Pardo et al. 2002), can explain the differences in plant species richness and composition of an oak-forest herb layer. As could be expected, they found that species diversity in the herb layer was affected by nitrogen availability. However, foliar δ15N signatures in oak leaves indicated different processes than the more commonly used proxies of nutrient status such as foliar nitrogen concentration. While the foliar nitrogen concentration negatively correlated with Shannon diversity index, δ15N indicated the spread of species with high colonization ability such as nutrient-demanding shade-tolerant annuals. Foliar δ15N signatures may be useful proxies of nitrogen availability in future studies in basic and applied vegetation ecology.

The last nominated paper was a methodological study by Peck et al. (2012). The authors used data from very-high-resolution (VHR) proximal remote-sensing imagery of canopies, collected using a remote-control helicopter photographic platform, for identification of species, genera and families of trees in a tropical cloud forest. Although the predictive ability of their classifiers was highly species-specific, some species, including important ecological indicators, could be correctly identified with a high probability (up to 93%). Methods of species identification from digital imagery are rapidly developing and provide very promising tools for vegetation studies, particularly in tropical and subtropical forests, but also beyond.

Vegetation restoration

Restoration ecology is a rapidly-developing field of applied ecological research, which broadly overlaps with applied vegetation science, because re-establishment of original or target vegetation is crucial in any restoration project. A major event in Applied Vegetation Science in 2012 was the publication of a Special Feature on Vegetation Restoration, based on a selection of twelve papers from the 7th European Conference on Ecological Restoration held on 23–27 August 2010 in Avignon, France (Hölzel et al. 2012). Three guest editors, including the main organizers of this conference Elise Buisson and Thierry Dutoit, with Norbert Hölzel, an AVS Associate Editor acting as a representative of the journal, did a highly professional editing job.

Applied Vegetation Science has always supported publication of studies on restoration of plant communities. There have been Special Features devoted to restoration in the past (Pyšek et al. 2001; van Diggelen & Marrs 2003) and every year there are several ordinary papers dealing with restoration published in the standard journal issues. The 2011 Special Feature clearly reflected a current shift of restoration ecological experiments and applications to the issue of dispersal limitation (Kiehl et al. 2010): most studies involved introduction of target species to restored sites. Several studies focused on restoration of species-rich grasslands on ex-arable land, which is a common restoration topic in Europe, where large areas of agricultural fields were abandoned recently. It is important that individual studies featured not only experiments done in plots of limited size, but also results of large-scale restoration projects. Most notably, Lengyel et al. (2012) reported on successful restoration of 760 ha of continental saline and loess steppe in Hungary, and the experimental study by Mitchley et al. (2012) was related to a restoration project in which a regional seed mixture was sown on about 500 ha of abandoned arable land in the Czech Republic to restore species-rich semi-dry grasslands.

Vegetation survey section

The topic of vegetation survey in Applied Vegetation Science was emphasised in a Special Feature published in the last issue of 2011 (Chytrý et al. 2011). Following this initial package of eight papers featuring prominent vegetation-survey studies from all around the world, a new section called Vegetation Survey was established in the journal. The first papers appearing in this section represented some types of studies that we would like to see in this section in the future. Luther-Mosebach et al. (2012) performed a local vegetation study in the South African succulent karoo biome, in which they nicely demonstrated how a bottom-up approach to vegetation classification, starting with meticulous field sampling of vegetation and soil and involving rigorously-documented data analysis, can lead to the establishment of formal hierarchical vegetation classification of the Braun-Blanquet type. In spite of the long tradition of vegetation research, the recent publication of an outstanding vegetation monograph of southern Africa (Mucina & Rutherford 2006), and the existence of a large vegetation-plot database (Rutherford et al. 2012), similar studies are still rare in southern Africa, and even rarer elsewhere in Africa. Luther-Mosebach et al. (2012) provide a good example for upcoming studies. From the editorial point of view, this paper contains also a remarkable example of well-edited and information-rich electronic appendices prepared by the authors. Another paper in the Vegetation Survey section, Jedrzejek et al. (2012), used vegetation-plot data to deliver rigorous definitions of altitudinal vegetation belts in western Greenland. Such study is basically descriptive in its nature, but with a significant potential application in monitoring future vegetation change resulting from climate warming. Finally, Uğurlu et al. (2012) presented a study of oak forests in Turkey, which is valuable for the large and comprehensive data set used for the analysis, the geographically extensive study area, and focus on an ecologically- and biogeographically-important vegetation type which has been poorly studied so far.

Vegetation Survey section will continue in Applied Vegetation Science and there are already further accepted papers in the publication queue. One of the plans for the next two or three years is publication of the Virtual Special Feature (VSF) “Towards a consistent classification of European grasslands”. Virtual means that papers will be published separately in the Vegetation Survey section upon their acceptance, but after several papers have been published they will be assembled under a single Special Feature heading on the journal's website and complemented with a summarizing paper. The aim of this VSF is to overcome national idiosyncracies in vegetation classification which are common in Europe by focusing on supranational vegetation classification studies, based on extensive vegetation-plot databases and typically performed by international teams. This initiative is jointly organized by two IAVS Working Groups, the European Dry Grassland Group and European Vegetation Survey; more detailed information can be obtained from Jürgen Dengler, the senior editor of this VSF.

The new subtitle and understanding of the journal scope

Beginning with the 2013 volume, Applied Vegetation Science is published with a subtitle Conservation, restoration and survey of plant communities. This is meant to give a brief indication of what the journal is about for those who do not know it. Our focus is on natural and semi-natural plant communities. This means that we do not publish ecological studies dealing with single plant species, with exception of species that determine structure and function of vegetation stands, thus determining ecological processes at the level of the whole community. Neither do we publish forestry or agricultural studies dealing with plantations and crops (but we are very much interested in studies focused on spontaneous species assemblages within plantations such as herb layers in forestry plantations or weed assemblages on arable land).

A further point that we want to emphasize by the subtitle is our focus on applications in the conservation and restoration of plant communities. We regularly publish studies on the management of plant communities, but management is not explicitly mentioned since it is a part of conservation. Studies lacking an applied focus may be directed to our sister Journal of Vegetation Science. Nevertheless, Applied Vegetation Science welcomes methodological studies that can be used in applied vegetation research or vegetation survey.

Finally, the subtitle mentions vegetation survey, the journal's new focus since 2011. This is not applied research in the strict sense, but the results of vegetation survey are often applied in nature conservation inventories, planning and priority setting.

Editorial and IAVS news

At the end of 2012, the journal was edited by four Chief Editors and 22 Associate Editors, who were very efficiently assisted by Sally Sellwood at Editorial Office Ltd and our publishers Wiley-Blackwell. One of the key persons at Wiley-Blackwell was the Senior Production Editor Graeme Henderson. He worked with the IAVS journals for almost four years and helped us tremendously to transform the journals to their current shape. It was a great pleasure for all of us Chief Editors to work with Graeme and we thank him for everything he has done for our journals. Since October 2012 the production work has been outsourced to Scientific Publishing Services Ltd and Hoshia Rose became our new Production Editor.

The 56th Symposium of IAVS will be held in Tartu, Estonia, on 26–30 June 2013, with the main topic “Vegetation patterns and their underlying processes” (www.iavs2013.ut.ee). All readers and authors of Applied Vegetation Science are most welcome to this symposium, which will be the largest world's event in vegetation science in 2013.

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