Natural Establishment of Specialist Plant Species after Topsoil Removal and Soil Perturbation in Degraded Calcareous Sandy Grassland

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Abstract

Specialist plant species in calcareous sandy grasslands are threatened by acidification and high nutrient levels in the topsoil. We investigated whether topsoil removal and soil perturbation in degraded sandy grasslands could lead to establishment of specialist species belonging to the threatened xeric sand calcareous grassland habitat. Restoration actions performed in 2006 resulted in increased soil pH and reduced nitrogen availability. We found early colonisztion of the perennial key species Koeleria glauca after both deep perturbation and topsoil removal, and high seedling establishment in topsoil removal plots 5 and 6 years following the restoration treatment (2011–2012). After topsoil removal, overall vegetation composition in 2012 had developed toward the undegraded community, with target species accounting for 20% of the community after topsoil removal, compared to 30% in the undegraded vegetation, and less than 1% in untreated controls. Deep perturbation led to 7% target species, while there were almost no effects of shallow perturbation 6 years following treatment. These results demonstrate that topsoil removal can promote colonization of target species of calcareous sandy grassland and highlights the importance of considering the regeneration niche for target species when implementing restoration measures.

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