Since the 1950s, agriculture has intensified drastically, which has led to a significant biodiversity decline on arable lands. This decline was especially dramatic for segetal plant species, the specialist species of cereal fields. Due to the low population density and poor dispersal abilities of many segetal species, the recovery of species-rich fields may fail even though the environmental conditions are suitable. Therefore, conservation efforts including active restoration measures aimed at recovering segetal vegetation are needed. To this purpose, we propose to alleviate dispersal limitation by means of topsoil translocation from a species-rich donor arable field. At two receiver sites, we tested this technique using two topsoil-spreading densities, i.e. 2.5Lsoil/m2 and 5Lsoil/m2 in experimental plots (3 m2). At one receiver site, we tested the impact of topsoil translocation from two different donor sites, while in the other receiver site one donor site was used. We compared plant species diversity and composition of treated plots with control plots as well as with the species composition of the donor sites (field survey) and their seed bank (greenhouse survey). Species richness was increased by topsoil spreading, including richness of threatened species. 33% and 71% of the threatened species were successfully translocated respectively at the two receiver sites. At one site, plant cover was also increased, including threatened species cover. Conversely, topsoil spreading did not promote pernicious species that could affect farmer acceptance negatively. Vegetation of translocated plots was more similar in terms of species composition to donor site seed banks than to donor site field survey. The higher spreading density led to increased species richness when seed bank in topsoil had lower density. Our results show that topsoil translocation can be a highly effective method for restoring threatened segetal plant communities in agricultural landscapes. Even when a full plant community was already present (Receiver 1) topsoil transfer led to a doubling in species richness. The seed bank surveys were a good indicator of plant community composition upon topsoil translocation in the field and are therefore advisable to implement in the project-planning phase to evaluate donor site potential. From our results, we recommend to spread soil at an overall rate of 500 seeds/m2 equivalent. Future studies need to assess the long-term fate of the translocated species as well as the impacts of soil harvests on the donor sites to establish sustainable use levels.
|Journal||Journal of Environmental Management|
|Publication status||Published - 2020|
- Arable plant
- Seed bank
- Topsoil translocation