Explaining grassland biomass - the contribution of climate, species and functional diversity depends on fertilization and mowing frequency.

Published online
12 Oct 2011
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Bernhardt-Römermann, M. & Römermann, C. & Sperlich, S. & Schmidt, W.
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Grassland ecosystems are often used to generate biomass in temperate regions of the world. It is well known that biomass is influenced by climate and biodiversity, but the relative importance of these two factors in relation to management has not been widely studied. To recommend management treatments maximizing biomass yields we aim to quantify the relative effects of climate species and functional diversity on biomass in differently managed grasslands. We studied the development of biomass yields over the last 37 years on a grassland site in Germany, with mowing at five frequencies (one to eight times per year), each with and without fertilization. We measured plant species richness (SR) and functional richness (FR) (the diversity of functional species properties) using presence-absence indices. We also measured species evenness (SE), functional evenness and functional divergence (FD) using abundance weighted indices. Climate was included as the mean temperature and sum of precipitation during the growing period. By relating biomass to the above-mentioned climatic and biodiversity parameters, we extracted the contribution of these to biomass yields. Biomass changed over time for all treatments and was maximal at intermediate mowing frequencies. Temporal changes in biomass were partly explained by climate and different aspects of biodiversity, although this differed significantly between treatments. The relative importance of precipitation was highest at high mowing frequencies; the contribution of temperature was highest on less disturbed, unfertilized plots. FR and SR influenced biomass changes in the most intensive disturbance regimes on unfertilized and fertilized plots respectively. FD was most important on intensively disturbed, fertilized plots. SE influenced biomass at low mowing frequencies. Synthesis and applications. Climate, species and functional diversity influence annual grassland biomass yields but their importance depends on nutrient status and management frequency. Our results indicate that management treatments with intermediate disturbance regimes will maximize biomass yields in temperate environments. This recommendation may become even more important in the context of climate change: at intermediate mowing frequencies the influence of climatic variables on biomass is less important by comparison to different aspects of biodiversity.

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