The Relation Between Unpalatable Species, Nutrients and Plant Species Richness in Swiss Montane Pastures
In agriculturally marginal areas, the control of unpalatable weeds on species rich pastures may become problematic due to agricultural and socio-economic developments. It is unclear how increased dominance of unpalatable species would affect the botanical diversity of these grasslands. We investigated whether there was any relationship between plant species diversity and the abundance of unpalatable species and whether soil conditions affected this relationship. In three species-rich montane pastures in western Switzerland, we related plant species richness to soil attributes, the relative cover of all unpalatable species and the relative cover of the locally dominant, toxic Veratrum album in 25 plots of 4 m2. We furthermore determined species richness in small transects through patches of V. album. Species richness was significantly lower in and near (≤ 0.3 m) patches of V. album. At the field scale, plant species richness was best described by total soil N:P ratio (positive relation) in one site and the relative abundance of unpalatable species (negative relation) and soil N:P ratio (positive relation) in a second site. In the third site, species richness was not significantly related to any measured variable. Vegetation diversity (Simpson's D) was negatively related to the relative abundance of unpalatable species in one site and positively related to pH in another site. The results suggest that no single factor can explain plant species richness and diversity in montane pastures. At very high densities unpalatable species can have adverse effects but soil nutrient status appears to be a more general determinant of plant species richness. Conservation efforts should give priority to the prevention of intensification of these pastures.
KeywordsGrassland Nutrients Total soil N:P ratio Veratrum album
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