Agroforestry Systems

, Volume 92, Issue 4, pp 893–908 | Cite as

Mediterranean cork oak wooded grasslands: synergies and trade-offs between plant diversity, pasture production and soil carbon

  • Giovanna Seddaiu
  • Simonetta Bagella
  • Antonio Pulina
  • Chiara Cappai
  • Lorenzo Salis
  • Ivo Rossetti
  • Roberto Lai
  • Pier Paolo Roggero


Mediterranean wooded grasslands that emerge from silvopastoral activities are multifunctional systems that result in high biodiversity and offer ecosystem services such as forage production and soil carbon sequestration. During 3 years, ten grazed wooded grassland fields were studied in the Berchidda–Monti long-term observatory, located in NE Sardinia, Italy, with the aim of exploring the synergies and trade-offs between biodiversity and selected ecosystem services. Positions below and outside the canopy of three cork oak trees in each field were randomly selected to compare seasonal pasture production, pasture utilization rate by animals, botanical composition, biodiversity indicators (Shannon index and plant species richness) and soil organic carbon. In autumn, dry matter production of pasture was similar in the two positions; in two winters out of three it was greater below the trees than outside, and in spring it was greater outside than below the trees. While plant species richness and Shannon index were not significantly influenced by the position, the overall wooded grassland plant species richness was 31% higher than that outside of the tree crown. The soil organic carbon content in the 0–40-cm soil layer was also higher below the trees. Our findings highlight that if the main purpose of the wooded grasslands is to provide forage for grazing animals rather than conserving and/or enhancing plant diversity and soil fertility, the presence of trees constrains the overall forage productivity, although the greater forage availability in winter under the trees can contribute to improve the seasonal distribution of forage production.


Biodiversity indicators Ecosystem services Habitat heterogeneity Pastoral value Scattered trees 



The study was carried out through the AGFORWARD project (Grant Agreement No. 613520), co-funded by the EU, Directorate General for Research & Innovation, within the 7th Framework Programme, Theme 2 - Biotechnologies, Agriculture & Food, and the PASCUUM project (L.R. 7/8/07 n. 7, Regione Autonoma Sardegna). The authors are very grateful to Dr. Maria Carmela Caria, from the University of Sassari for her contribution to CCA data analysis.


  1. Anderson M, Gorley R, Clarke K (2008) PERMANOVA for PRIMER: guide to software and statistical methods. PRIMER-E, PlymouthGoogle Scholar
  2. Bagella S, Caria MC (2011) Vegetation series: a tool for the assessment of grassland ecosystem services in Mediterranean large-scale grazing systems. Fitosociologia 48:47–54Google Scholar
  3. Bagella S, Salis L, Marrosu GM, Rossetti I, Fanni S, Caria MC, Roggero PP (2013a) Effects of long-term management practices on grassland plant assemblages in Mediterranean cork oak silvo-pastoral systems. Plant Ecol 214:621–631. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bagella S, Satta A, Floris I, Caria MC, Rossetti I, Podani J (2013b) Effects of plant community composition and flowering phenology on honeybee foraging in Mediterranean sylvo-pastoral systems. Appl Veg Sci 16:689–697. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bagella S, Sitzia M, Roggero PP (2017) Soil fertilisation contributes to mitigating forest fire hazard associated with Cistus monspeliensis L. (rock rose) shrublands. Int J Wildland Fire 26(2):156–166. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Báldi A (2008) Habitat heterogeneity overrides the species–area relationship. J Biogeogr 35:675–681. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bazzoffi P (2009) Soil erosion tolerance and water runoff control: minimum environmental standards. Reg Environ Change 9:169–179. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bennett EM, Peterson GD, Gordon LJ (2009) Understanding relationships among multiple ecosystem services. Ecol Lett 12:1394–1404. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Braun-Blanquet J (1951) Pflanzensoziologie: grundzüge der vegetationskunde. Springer-VerlagGoogle Scholar
  10. Casals P, Romero J, Rusch GM, Ibrahim M (2014) Soil organic C and nutrient contents under trees with different functional characteristics in seasonally dry tropical silvopastures. Plant Soil 374:643–659. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. CEC (Commission of the European Communities) (2002) Towards a thematic strategy for soil protection. In: Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Brussels, p 35Google Scholar
  12. Chanteloup P, Bonis A (2013) Functional diversity in root and above-ground traits in a fertile grassland shows a detrimental effect on productivity. Basic Appl Ecol 14:208–216. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cosentino SL, Porqueddu C, Copani V, Patanè C, Testa G, Scordia D, Melis R (2014) European grasslands overview: Mediterranean region. Grassland Sci Eur 19:41–56Google Scholar
  14. Council of Europe (1992) Council Directive 92/43/EEC, Official Journal L. 206, 22/07/1992, pp 7–50.
  15. Craven D, Isbell F, Manning P, Connolly J, Bruelheide H, Ebeling A, Roscher C, van Ruijven J, Weigelt A, Wilsey B, Beierkuhnlein C, de Luca E, Griffin JN, Hautier Y, Hector A, Jentsch A, Kreyling J, Lanta V, Loreau M, Meyer ST, Mori AS, Naeem S, Palmborg C, Wayne Polley H, Reich PB, Schmid B, Siebenkas A, Seabloom E, Thakur MP, Tilman D, Vogel A, Eisenh N (2016) Plant diversity effects on grassland productivity are robust to both nutrient enrichment and drought. Philos T Roy Soc B 371:20150277. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Daget P, Poissonet J (1971) Une méthode d’analyse phytologique des prairies: critères d’application. Ann Agron 22:5–41Google Scholar
  17. De Miguel JM, Acosta-Gallo B, Gómez-Sal B (2013) Understanding Mediterranen pasture dynamics: general tree cover vs specific effects of individual trees. Rangeland Ecol Manag 66:216–223. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dufour A, Gadallah F, Wagner HH, Guisan A, Buttler A (2006) Plant species richness and environmental heterogeneity in a mountain landscape: effects of variability and spatial configuration. Ecography 29:573–584. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. FAO (2017) Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss.
  20. Fernández-Moya J, San Miguel-Ayanz A, Cañellas I, Gea-Izquierdo G (2011) Variability in Mediterranean annual grassland diversity driven by small-scale changes in fertility and radiation. Plant Ecol 212:865–877. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Frame J (1981) Herbage mass. In: Hodgson J, Baker R, Davies A, Laidlaw A (eds) Sward measurements handbook. The British Grassland Society, Maidenhead, pp 39–67Google Scholar
  22. García-Barrios L, Ong CK (2004) Ecological interactions, management lessons and design tools in tropical agroforestry systems. Agrofor Syst 61:221–236. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gomez KA, Gomez AA (1984) Statistical procedures for agricultural research. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  24. Gutman M, Seligman NG, Noy-Meir I (1990) Herbage production of Mediterranean grassland under seasonal and yearlong grazing systems. J Range Manag 43:64–68. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Haile SG, Nair VD, Nair PKR (2010) Contribution of trees to carbon storage in soils of silvopastoral systems in Florida, USA. Glob Change Biol 16:427–438. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hönigová I, Vačkář D, Lorencová E, Melichar J, Götzl M, Sonderegger G, Oušková V, Hošek M, Chobot K (2012) Survey on grassland ecosystem services. Report of the European Topic Centre on Biological Diversity. Nature Conservation Agency of the Czech Republic, PragueGoogle Scholar
  27. Howlett DS, Moreno G, Mosquera-Losada MR, Nair PKR, Nair VD (2011) Soil carbon storage as influenced by tree cover in the Dehesa cork oak silvopasture of central-western Spain. J Environ Monit 13:1897–1904. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Institute SAS (1999) SAS/STAT user’s guide, version 8, vol 2. SAS Institute, CaryGoogle Scholar
  29. Klaus VH, Hölzel N, Boch S, Müller J, Socher S, Prati D, Fischer M, Kleinebecker T (2013) Direct and indirect associations between plant species richness and productivity in grasslands: regional differences preclude simple generalization of productivity-biodiversity relationships. Preslia 85:97–112Google Scholar
  30. Kyriazopoulos AP, López-Francos A, Porqueddu C, Sklavou P (2016) Ecosystem services and socio-economic benefits of Mediterranean grasslands. Options 114:13Google Scholar
  31. López-Carrasco C, López-Sánchez A, San Miguel A, Roig S (2015) The effect of tree cover on the biomass and diversity of the herbaceous layer in a Mediterranean dehesa. Grass Forage Sci 70:639–650. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Loreau M, Naeem S, Inchausti P, Bengtsson J, Grime JP, Hector A, Hooper DU, Huston M, Raffaelli D, Schmid B, Tilman D, Wardle DA (2001) Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning: current knowledge and future challenges. Science 294:804–808. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Manning AD, Fischer J, Lindenmayer DB (2006) Scattered trees are keystone structures—implications for conservation. Biol Conserv 132:311–321. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. McCune B, Grace JB, Urban DL (2002) Analysis of ecological communities. MjM software design, Gleneden BeachGoogle Scholar
  35. MEA (Millenium Ecosystem Assessment) (2005) Ecosystems and human well-being: a framework for assessment. Island Press, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  36. Merunková K, Chytrý M (2012) Environmental control of species richness and composition in upland grasslands of the southern Czech Republic. Plant Ecol 213:591–602. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Moreno G (2008) Response of understorey forage to multiple tree effects in Iberian dehesas. Agric Ecosyst Environ 123:239–244. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Moreno G, Obrador J, García E, Cubera E, Montero M, Pulido F (2005) Consequences of dehesa management on tree-understorey interactions. In: Mosquera-Losada MR, Riguero-Rodriguez A, McAdam J (eds) Silvopastoralism and sustainable land management. CAB International, Oxon, pp 263–265Google Scholar
  39. Moreno G, Obrador JJ, García A (2007) Impact of evergreen oaks on soil fertility and crop production in intercropped dehesas. Agric Ecosyst Environ 119:270–280. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Moreno G, Bartolome JW, Gea-Izquierdo G, Cañellas I (2013) Overstory-understory relationships. In: Campos P, Huntsinger L, Oviedo JL, Starrs PF, Diaz, M, Standiford RB, Montero G (eds) Mediterranean Oak woodland working landscapes. Dehesas of Spain and Ranchlands of California. Landscape Series, vol 16. Springer, New York, pp 145–179Google Scholar
  41. Moreno G, Gonzalez-Bornay G, Pulido F, Lopez-Diaz ML, Bertomeu M, Juárez E, Diaz M (2016) Exploring the causes of high biodiversity of Iberian dehesas: the importance of wood pastures and marginal habitats. Agrofor Syst 90:87–105. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Nieto-Romero M, Oteros-Rozas E, González JA, Martín-López B (2014) Exploring the knowledge landscape of ecosystem services assessments in Mediterranean agroecosystems: insights for future research. Environ Sci Policy 37:121–133. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Petersen U, Wrage N, Kohler L, Leuschner C, Isselstein J (2012) Manipulating the species composition of permanent grasslands—a new approach to biodiversity experiments. Basic Appl Ecol 13:1–9. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Pielou EC (1969) An introduction to mathematical ecology. An introduction to mathematical ecology. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  45. Pilgrim ES, Macleod CJ, Blackwell MS, Bol R, Hogan DV, Chadwick DR, Cardenas L, Misselbrook TH, Haygarth PM, Brazier RE (2010) Interactions among agricultural production and other ecosystem services delivered from European temperate grassland systems. Adv Agron 109:117–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pulido-Fernández M, Schnabel S, Lavado-Contador JF, Miralles Mellado I, Ortega Pérez R (2013) Soil organic matter of Iberian open woodland rangelands as influenced by vegetation cover and land management. CATENA 109:13–24. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Questad EJ, Foster BL (2008) Coexistence through spatio-temporal heterogeneity and species sorting in grassland plant communities. Ecol Lett 11:717–726. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Ribeiro S, Fernandes JP, Espírito-Santo MD (2014) Diversity and floristic patterns of mediterranean grasslands: the relative influence of environmental and land management factors. Biodivers Conserv 23:2903–2921. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Roggero PP, Bagella S, Farina R (2002) Un Archivio dati di Indici specifici per la valutazione integrata del valore pastorale. Rivista di Agronomia 36:149–156Google Scholar
  50. Rolo V, Rivest D, Lorente M, Kattge J, Moreno G (2016) Taxonomic and functional diversity in Mediterranean pastures: insights on the biodiversity–productivity trade-off. J Appl Ecol 53:1575–1584. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Rossetti I, Bagella S, Cappai C, Caria MC, Lai R, Roggero PP, da Silva PM, Sousa JP, Querner P, Seddaiu G (2015) Isolated cork oak trees affect soil properties and biodiversity in a Mediterranean wooded grassland. Agric Ecosyst Environ 202:203–216. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Seddaiu G, Porcu G, Ledda L, Roggero PP, Agnelli A, Corti G (2013) Soil organic matter content and composition as influenced by soil management in a semi-arid Mediterranean agro-silvo-pastoral system. Agric Ecosyst Environ 167:1–11. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Simón N, Montes F, Díaz-Pinés E, Benavides R, Roig S, Rubio A (2013) Spatial distribution of the soil organic carbon pool in a Holm oak dehesa in Spain. Plant Soil 366:537–549. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Stein A, Gerstner K, Kreft H (2014) Environmental heterogeneity as a universal driver of species richness across taxa, biomes and spatial scales. Ecol Lett 17:866–880. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Takimoto A, Nair VD, Nair PKR (2009) Contribution of trees to soil carbon sequestration under agroforestry systems in the West African Sahel. Agrofor Syst 76:11–25. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Ter Braak CJF, Smilauer P (2002) CANOCO reference manual and CanoDraw for Windows user’s guide: software for canonical community ordination (version 4.5). Ithaca, NY, USA.
  57. Tilman D, Reich PB, Isbell F (2012) Biodiversity impacts ecosystem productivity as much as resources, disturbance, or herbivory. P Natl Acad Sci USA 109:10394–10397. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. USDA (2010) Keys to soil taxonomy, 11th edn. Soil survey staff, United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Washington, DC, USA.
  59. van der Maabel E (1979) Transformation of cover-abundance values in phytosociology and its effects on community similarity. Vegetatio 39:97–114. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Whittaker RH (1972) Evolution and measurement of species diversity. Taxon 21:213–251CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di AgrariaUniversity of SassariSassariItaly
  2. 2.Nucleo Ricerca DesertificazioneUniversity of SassariSassariItaly
  3. 3.Dipartimento di Scienze della Natura e del TerritorioUniversity of SassariSassariItaly
  4. 4.Servizio Ricerca per la ZootecniaAGRIS SardegnaSassariItaly

Personalised recommendations