Impact of grazing and atmospheric nitrogen deposition on the vegetation of dry coastal dune grasslands

Authors

  • J. ten Harkel Matthijs,

    Corresponding author
    1. Landscape and Environmental Research Group, University of Amsterdam, Nieuwe Prinsengracht 130, 1018 VZ Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Frank van der Meulen

    1. Landscape and Environmental Research Group, University of Amsterdam, Nieuwe Prinsengracht 130, 1018 VZ Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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*Corresponding author: Tel. +31 20 5257442; Fax +31 20 5257431; E-mail mth@fgb.frw.uva.nl

Abstract

Abstract. A five-year experimental study was carried out to examine the combined effects of grazing and atmospheric nitrogen deposition on the vegetation of three dry dune grasslands: one short species-rich, one short species-poor, and one predominated by tall graminoids.

Additional fertilization with nitrogen had no significant effect, neither in grazed nor in non-grazed plots. Exclusion of grazing by rabbits resulted in an increase in the frequency of perennial graminoids and a decrease in the frequency of annual graminoids and herbs. Nevertheless, species diversity remained the same in the species-rich grassland. During the experiment, the above-ground biomass increased in all nongrazed plots and the amount of bare soil and mosses decreased.

The vegetation changes occurred mainly within one year after the exclusion of grazing. An exception is the grass-dominated site where the amount of Calamagrostis epigejos increased gradually from ca. 20 % in the first two years to about 50 % in the fourth and fifth year.

Grazing by rabbits seems essential to prevent graminoids to become predominant in the dry dunes. If graminoids are dominant, grazing by horses can be an appropriate method to restore the original grassland vegetation. After six months of grazing by horses the grass-dominated site showed a decrease of the frequency of perennial graminoids, from 95 % to 80 %, and an increase of the frequency of perennial herbs, from 2.5 % to between 13 and 20 %.

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