Abstract. We studied the restoration success of flood plain meadows in the northern Upper Rhine valley, where between 1988 and 1992, 35 ha of arable land was converted into grassland and subsequently managed for nature conservation.
Remnant populations of typical alluvial meadow species were found in old meadows and along drainage ditches that dissect the whole area. We analysed the site conditions and phytosociological relevés in old and new meadows. Small differences in site parameters between old and new meadows contrasted with a clear floristic differentiation between the two meadow types. The vegetation of old meadows was much more differentiated along prevailing environmental gradients than the vegetation of new meadows. Despite the favourable site conditions for the re-establishment of species-rich meadows on the former arable land, restoration success was limited to the vicinity of remnant stands. In contrast to old meadows, indicator species of new grassland were still typical species of regularly disturbed ruderal and arable habitats, often capable of building up a persistent seed bank.
The precise mapping of 23 target species revealed that even wind dispersal predominantly leads to re-establishment in the close circumference of parent plants. We found no indication that regular flooding, hay-making and autumnal grazing had an impact on recolonization of newly created grassland. Even under favourable conditions for the re-establishment of target species, restoration success in alluvial meadows proved to be strongly dispersal limited. We discuss the implications of our findings for future restoration management in grasslands.