J Plant Ecol ›› 2014, Vol. 7 ›› Issue (6): 509-517.

• Research Articles •

### Influence of experimental soil disturbances on the diversity of plants in agricultural grasslands

Jörg Müller1,*, Johannes Heinze1, Jasmin Joshi1,2, Steffen Boch3, Valentin H. Klaus4, Markus Fischer1,3,5 and Daniel Prati3

1. 1 Institute of Biochemistry, and Biology, University of Potsdam, Maulbeerallee 1, 14469 Potsdam, Germany; 2 Freie Universität Berlin, Institut für Biologie, Berlin-Brandenburg Institute of Advanced Biodiversity Research, Altensteinstrasse 6, 14195 Berlin, Germany; 3 Institute of Plant Sciences, University of Bern, Altenbergrain 21, 3013 Bern, Switzerland; 4 Institute of Landscape Ecology, University of Münster, Heisenbergstr. 2, 48149 Münster, Germany; 5 Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre BIK-F, Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung, 60325 7 Frankfurt, Germany
• Received:2013-04-18 Accepted:2013-11-24 Published:2014-11-20
• Contact: Müller, J?rg

Abstract: Aims and Methods Disturbance is supposed to play an important role for biodiversity and ecosystem stability as described by the intermediate disturbance hypothesis (IDH), which predicts highest species richness at intermediate levels of disturbances. In this study, we tested the effects of artificial soil disturbances on diversity of annual and perennial vascular plants and bryophytes in a field experiment in 86 agricultural grasslands differing in land use in two regions of Germany. On each grassland, we implemented four treatments: three treatments differing in application time of soil disturbances and one control. One year after experimental disturbance, we recorded vegetation and measured biomass productivity and bare ground. We analysed the disturbance response taking effects of region and land-use-accompanied disturbance regimes into account.
Important findings Region and land-use type strongly determined plant species richness. Experimental disturbances had small positive effects on the species richness of annuals, but none on perennials or bryophytes. Bare ground was positively related to species richness of bryophytes. However, exceeding the creation of 12% bare ground further disturbance had a detrimental effect on bryophyte species richness, which corresponds to the IDH. As biomass productivity was unaffected by disturbance our results indicate that the disturbance effect on species richness of annuals was not due to decreased overall productivity, but rather due to short-term lowered inter- and intraspecific competition at the newly created microsites. Generally, our results highlight the importance of soil disturbances for species richness of annual plants and bryophytes in agricultural grasslands. However, most grasslands were disturbed naturally or by land-use practices and our additional experimental soil disturbances only had a small short-term effect. Overall, total plant diversity in grasslands seemed to be more limited by the availability of propagules rather than by suitable microsites for germination. Thus, nature conservation efforts to increase grassland diversity should focus on overcoming propagule limitation, for instance by additional sowing of seeds, while the creation of additional open patches by disturbance might only be appropriate where natural disturbances are scarce.

Aims and Methods Disturbance is supposed to play an important role for biodiversity and ecosystem stability as described by the intermediate disturbance hypothesis (IDH), which predicts highest species richness at intermediate levels of disturbances. In this study, we tested the effects of artificial soil disturbances on diversity of annual and perennial vascular plants and bryophytes in a field experiment in 86 agricultural grasslands differing in land use in two regions of Germany. On each grassland, we implemented four treatments: three treatments differing in application time of soil disturbances and one control. One year after experimental disturbance, we recorded vegetation and measured biomass productivity and bare ground. We analysed the disturbance response taking effects of region and land-use-accompanied disturbance regimes into account.
Important findings Region and land-use type strongly determined plant species richness. Experimental disturbances had small positive effects on the species richness of annuals, but none on perennials or bryophytes. Bare ground was positively related to species richness of bryophytes. However, exceeding the creation of 12% bare ground further disturbance had a detrimental effect on bryophyte species richness, which corresponds to the IDH. As biomass productivity was unaffected by disturbance our results indicate that the disturbance effect on species richness of annuals was not due to decreased overall productivity, but rather due to short-term lowered inter- and intraspecific competition at the newly created microsites. Generally, our results highlight the importance of soil disturbances for species richness of annual plants and bryophytes in agricultural grasslands. However, most grasslands were disturbed naturally or by land-use practices and our additional experimental soil disturbances only had a small short-term effect. Overall, total plant diversity in grasslands seemed to be more limited by the availability of propagules rather than by suitable microsites for germination. Thus, nature conservation efforts to increase grassland diversity should focus on overcoming propagule limitation, for instance by additional sowing of seeds, while the creation of additional open patches by disturbance might only be appropriate where natural disturbances are scarce.