The impact of disturbance gradient on recruitment of clonal plant species in Molinietum caeruleae meadows
The investigations of the impact of disturbance severity on recruitment of clonal plant species were preformed in three Molinietum caeruleae patches dominated by small meadow species (MC), or prevailed by tall grasses (GR) or overgrown by willows (SA). The meadows were located in Vistula valley close to Kraków agglomeration, southern Poland. In above menntionned patches ten permanent experimental plots were randomly arranged. Each plot was divided in four subplots measured 900 cm² represented undisturbed control, low level of disturbance (the litter and the moss layer removal), intermediate level of disturbance (the litter, moss and above-ground vegetation removal), high level of disturbance (the litter, moss and the plants removal as well as top soil raking). The colonization of gaps was observed in the years 2008–2010. Irrespective of patch character, the greatest species richness and seedling abundance were observed in gaps, which occurred in result of intermediate disturbances. Weaker recruitment rates were recorded in openings left after disturbances of low- and high severity, while in fully compact herb layer no seedlings were found. In MC patch, regardless of treatment in all openings similar spectra of life history traits were observed. In seedling pool of all subplots appeared taxa creating below ground organs of clonal growth. In all subplots dominated species with intermediate values of lateral spread, numerous vegetative descendants, short-lasting stems and no persistent genet integration. In sites GR and SA in openings left after weak disturbances appeared species with below- and aboveground organs of clonal growth. The majority of them characterized by slight lateral spread, low number of vegetative offsprings, long lifespan of shoots and persistent genet integration. The abundance of taxa creating underground clonal growth organs, with considerable vegetative spread, high production of daughter ramets, short lifespan of shoots and not enduring genet integration increased gradually and significantly with disturbance gradient. Although the greatest recruitment rates were found in gaps left after removal of litter, moss and above-ground parts of plants, the most effective way for conservation of Molinietum caeruleae meadows appeared to be creation of different severity disturbances. Such treatment contributes to maintenance of heterogeneity of clonal species composition, especially in patches in advanced successional stages.
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