Evaluating long-term success in grassland restoration: an ecosystem multifunctionality approach

Monika Carol Resch* (Corresponding author), Martin Schütz, Nina Buchmann, Beat Frey, Ulrich Graf, Wim H. van der Putten, Stephan Zimmermann, Anita C. Risch

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)
28 Downloads (Pure)


It is generally assumed that restoring biodiversity will enhance diversity and ecosystem functioning. However, to date, it has rarely been evaluated whether and how restoration efforts manage to rebuild biodiversity and multiple ecosystem functions (ecosystem multifunctionality) simultaneously. Here, we quantified how three restoration methods of increasing intervention intensity (harvest only < topsoil removal < topsoil removal + propagule addition) affected grassland ecosystem multifunctionality 22 yr after the restoration event. We compared restored with intensively managed and targeted seminatural grasslands based on 13 biotic and abiotic, above- and belowground properties. We found that all three restoration methods improved ecosystem multifunctionality compared to intensively managed grasslands and developed toward the targeted seminatural grasslands. However, whereas higher levels of intervention intensity reached ecosystem multifunctionality of targeted seminatural grasslands after 22 yr, lower intervention missed this target. Moreover, we found that topsoil removal with and without seed addition accelerated the recovery of biotic and aboveground properties, and we found no negative long-term effects on abiotic or belowground properties despite removing the top layer of the soil. We also evaluated which ecosystem properties were the best indicators for restoration success in terms of accuracy and cost efficiency. Overall, we demonstrated that low-cost measures explained relatively more variation of ecosystem multifunctionality compared to high-cost measures. Plant species richness was the most accurate individual property in describing ecosystem multifunctionality, as it accounted for 54% of ecosystem multifunctionality at only 4% of the costs of our comprehensive multifunctionality approach. Plant species richness is the property that typically is used in restoration monitoring by conservation agencies. Vegetation structure, soil carbon storage and water-holding capacity together explained 70% of ecosystem multifunctionality at only twice the costs (8%) of plant species richness, which is, in our opinion, worth considering in future restoration monitoring projects. Hence, our findings provide a guideline for land managers how they could obtain an accurate estimate of aboveground-belowground ecosystem multifunctionality and restoration success in a highly cost-efficient way.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02271
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number3
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


  • aboveground-belowground properties
  • biotic-abiotic properties
  • cost efficiency
  • long-term monitoring
  • nature management techniques
  • seminatural grasslands
  • international
  • Plan_S-Compliant_NO


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