Model-based assessment of the impact of agri-environment scheme options and short-term climate change on plant biodiversity in temperate grasslands.
Agri-environment schemes (AES) incentivise land-management practices aimed at mitigating environmental impacts. However, their effectiveness depends on the duration and type of management. We modelled the potential for grassland AES options in Wales (UK) to achieve positive changes in plant diversity via change in soil conditions. We modelled the response of plants and soils to the predicted effects of AES options over a 13-year time interval. We applied scenarios of change in soil conditions in three managed grassland types, using high-resolution baseline soil and vegetation data collected in grasslands across Wales, UK. We also applied scenarios of climate change to determine the extent to which this might modify the impact of AES intervention on plant species compositional turnover. Empirical models of soil response to extensification were constructed from published experimental data and used to drive change in soil inputs to a small ensemble of ecological niche models for British plants. These models were applied to the local pool of species in each baseline (2 × 2 m) quadrat plus a wider 10 × 10 km pool from which we draw species absent at baseline but predicted to find conditions suitable as a result of AES intervention and climate change, thus estimating dark diversity at each location. Outputs were summarised by grouping species by the ecosystem functions and services they support and by matching projected species composition to the UK National Vegetation Classification. Scenario modelling indicated that at least 10 years of management under grassland AES options were needed to achieve conditions suitable for desirable plant assemblages more typical of lower fertility habitats. Synthesis and applications: We predict that management effects will have a more marked effect on vegetation and soil than predicted climate variation up to 2029. Realising modelled changes in habitat suitability as species compositional turnover and community assembly is likely to require additional measures to assist plant dispersal and establishment.