Literature type: Thesis
Full reference: Niemelä, M. 2009. Biotic interactions and vegetation management on coastal meadows. , Acta Universitatis Ouluensis. A Scientiae Rerum Naturalium 360. Faculty of Science, University of Oulu, Finland.
Conservation of rare habitats and species are central elements in the management of semi-natural grasslands of high biodiversity. Understanding the impacts of various abiotic and biotic interactions and management methods on threatened species is fundamental to their conservation. In the present study, effects of competition, plant parasitism, grazing and mowing were studied at the community level in Bothnian Bay coastal meadows and in greenhouse. This was the first time when the impacts of various biotic interactions on the critically endangered creeping alkali grass (Puccinellia phryganodes) have been explored in detail in one of its rare occurrences in the boreal vegetation zone in Europe. In addition, questions related to ecological and economical sustainability of cattle grazing on coastal meadows were examined. Puccinellia phryganodes was found to suffer severely from competition with taller graminoids. Simulated and actual grazing by greylag goose, Anser anser, as well as infection by a hemiparasitic plant, Odontites litoralis, were found to indirectly benefit P. phryganodes by decreasing the competitive advantage of its competitors. In spite of the relatively intensive grazing by greylag goose in the field, P. phryganodes experienced a drastic decrease during four years in the grazed experimental quadrats and simultaneously the proportion of the taller graminoids increased substantially. Primary succession of coastal meadow vegetation was found to progress rapidly and continuous formation of suitable open habitats is therefore crucial for the subordinate species. Mowing was found to be an effective management method for some threatened plant species in coastal meadows, but not for P. phryganodes, which would probably benefit more, for example, from livestock grazing. Both lightly and rather intensively managed large open meadows could provide optimal habitats for the critically endangered lesser white fronted goose (Anser erythropus) as well as for the greylag goose. The relatively low and variable yield of the coastal meadow vegetation compared to that of cultivated grasslands sets limits how management by cattle grazing can be implemented. Key factors for both the biodiversity management and livestock production in coastal meadows are timing of the grazing season, intensity of grazing and selection of suitable types of animals.
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