Journal article

Effect of dung deposition on small-scale patch structure and seasonal vegetation dynamics in mountain pastures

Cattle activity greatly influences plant species composition and biomass production of grassland ecosystems. Dung deposition by cattle together with grazing and trampling can be considered as one of the important factors driving vegetation dynamics in pastures. The objective of this study was to investigate at 10-cm and 1-month resolution the plant community dynamics induced by dung deposition in two plant communities (a mesotrophic and an oligotrophic grassland) in a pasture of the Swiss Jura Mountains. Vegetation was sampled four or three times during the vegetation period in contiguous 10 cm x 10 cm quadrats from the centre of the dung pat to a distance of 60 cm. A lower grazing intensity near the dung pat was recorded for all observation periods. In the mesotrophic grassland the canopy was higher near the dung pat already one week after dung deposition. Vegetation around dung pats was submitted to two opposite fertilizing and grazing gradients, which induced changes in vegetation texture and structure at fine scale and short term. We observed a positive rank correlation between species turnover and distance to the dung for both communities, suggesting a seasonal stabilizing effect of dung on the plant composition of their direct surroundings (0-10 cm) likely due to cattle avoidance. Since dung pats are dropped every year in different locations, they create in the pasture a shifting mosaic of nutrient availability and grazing intensity inducing at seasonal scale micro-successions in plant communities. (c) 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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