Long-term cross-scale comparison of grazing and mowing on plant diversity and community composition in a salt-marsh system

Qingqing Chen* (Corresponding author), Jan P. Bakker, Juan Alberti, Elisabeth S. Bakker, Christian Smit, Han Olff

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Land abandonment has been increasing in recent decades in Europe, usually accompanied by biodiversity decline. Whether livestock grazing and mowing can safeguard biodiversity across spatial scales in the long term is unclear. Using a 48-year experiment in a salt marsh, we compared land abandonment (without grazing and mowing) and seven management regimes including cattle grazing, early season mowing, late season mowing, both early and late season mowing, and grazing plus each of the mowing regimes on plant diversity at the local and larger scales (i.e. aggregated local communities). Also, we compared their effects on community composition (both in identities and abundances) in time and space. Under land abandonment, plant diversity declined in the local communities and this decline became more apparent at the larger scale, particularly for graminoids and halophytes. All management regimes, except for late season mowing, maintained plant diversity at these scales. Local plant communities under all treatments underwent different successional trajectories, in the end, diverged from their initial state except for that under grazing (a cyclic succession). Year-to-year changes in local community composition remained at a similar level over time under land abandonment and grazing plus early season mowing while it changed under other treatments. Vegetation homogenized at the larger scale over time under land abandonment while vegetation remained heterogeneous under all management regimes. Synthesis. Our experiment suggests that late season mowing may not be sustainable to conserve plant diversity in salt marshes. Other management regimes can maintain plant diversity across spatial scales and vegetation heterogeneity at the larger scale in the long term, but local community composition may change over time.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number10
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • cross scales
  • herbivore exclusion
  • long term
  • plant–herbivore interaction
  • species richness
  • Plan_S-Compliant-TA
  • international


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