The role of successional stage and small-scale disturbance for establishment of pioneer grass Corynephorus canescens


  • Co-ordinating Editor: Dr Alicia Acosta

Tschöpe, O. (corresponding author, Department of Biology and Biochemistry, Biodiversity/Systematic Botany, University of Potsdam, Maulbeerallee 1, DE–14469 Potsdam, Germany.
Tielbörger, K. ( Department of Plant Ecology, University of Tübingen, Auf der Morgenstelle 1, DE–72076 Tübingen, Germany.>


Question: Which mechanisms promote the maintenance of the protected pioneer grass Corynephorus canescens in a mosaic landscape? Which are the interactive effects of small-scale disturbances, successional stage and year-to-year variation on early establishment probabilities of C. canescens?

Location: Brandenburg, NE Germany.

Methods: We measured emergence and survival rates over 3 yr in a sowing-experiment conducted in three successional stages (C. canescens-dominated site, ruderal forb site and pioneer forest) under two different regimes of mechanical ground disturbance (disturbed versus undisturbed control).

Results: Overall, disturbance led to higher emergence in a humid year and to lower emergence in a very dry year. Apparently, when soil moisture was sufficient, the main factor limiting C. canescens' establishment was competition, while in the dry year, water became the limiting factor. Survival rates were not affected by disturbance. In humid years, C. canescens emerged in higher numbers in open successional stages while in the dry year, emergence rates were higher in late stages, suggesting an important role of late successional stages for the persistence of C. canescens.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that small-scale disturbances can promote germination of C. canescens. However, disturbances should be carefully planned. The optimal strategy for promoting C. canescens is to apply disturbances just before seed dispersal and not during dry years. At the landscape scale, a mosaic of different vegetation types is beneficial for the protected pioneer grass as facilitation by late-successional species may be an important mechanism for the persistence of C. canescens, especially in dry years.