Contrasting response to mowing in two abandoned rich fen plant communities

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Globally important U.K. fens are in poor condition, principally due to abandonment, following cessation of traditional mowing and grazing in recent decades. In the absence of management, rich fen flora are displaced as a result of succession. This leads to an increase in competitive species and subsequent biomass accumulation. In order to reverse this trajectory and increase species richness, management consisting of a single mowing event was employed. Mowing was conducted in two degraded fen communities in north-west Wales (U.K.) across three sites: (i) a species rich, tussock alkaline mire, dominated by Schoenus nigri cans and Juncus subnodulosus (SN community) and (ii) a species poor basin mire Cladio-Mohnietum dominated by Cladium mariscus (CM community). The early vegetation responses were monitored over two years. Results show a large treatment effect on species richness in the CM community, where mean species richness increased by 51% in the second year following mowing. Consequently, total species number across all sites increased to 74 in the treatment compared to 44 in the control. Mowing reduced vegetation height and litter cover and increased bare ground. These treatment effects combined with a reduction in graminoid and shrub cover collectively contributed to the initial stages of rehabilitation. Conversely, the SN community showed no increase in species richness, in spite of a reduction in litter cover and increased bare ground. Strong site heterogeneity and a sustained canopy height caused by rapid re-growth of the dominant graminoid S. nigri cans may have impeded treatment effects. Therefore, increased mowing frequency in alternate years, switching between autumn and summer would be necessary to develop species richness in the SN community. Ongoing intervention in each fen community is needed to achieve an optimal trajectory of increased rich fen and reduction of secondary succession species. (C) 2015 Elsevier By. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)210-222
JournalEcological Engineering
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2015
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