Leaf functional traits for the assessment of succession following management in semi-natural grasslands: a case study in the North Apennines, Italy

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Abstract

Question

Do leaf functional traits describe variation in the intensity of management in semi-natural grasslands?

Location

Mugello, North Apennines, Italy.

Methods

In an ecologically homogeneous area, we identified four grassland management practices (three different stocking rates and abandonment for 10 or more years). We measured leaf functional traits (LFT) of three dominant grass species – leaf dry matter content (LDMC), specific leaf area (SLA) and leaf N concentration (LNC) – in two permanent sampling plots per treatment for two consecutive years. Statistical tests and multivariate analysis were employed to compare the traits and analyse their sensitivity in responding to the different management intensities.

Results

The robustness of LDMC and SLA in grass species ranking was confirmed. Weighted LDMC and SLA were able to differentiate the most intensely managed site from the others.

Conclusions

The results of the weighted LDMC and the weighted SLA encourage further studies aimed at the development of a LFT database for the most common grass species of Apennine semi-natural grasslands. This could be of great help in the development of indicators able to support the formulation of rational management plans for conservation and sustainable animal production.

We identified four grassland sites in similar ecological conditions and under different management practices for ten or more years. Weighted Leaf Dry Matter Content, weighted Leaf Nitrogen Content and weighted Specific Leaf Area were able to differentiate the most intensely managed site from the others. Indicators based on leaf functional traits could aid the formulation of rational management plans.

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