Patterns of ash (Fraxinus excelsior L.) colonization in mountain grasslands: the importance of management practices

Abstract : Woody colonization of grasslands is often associated with changes in abiotic or biotic conditions or a combination of both. Widely used as fodder and litter in the past traditional agro-pastoral system, ash (Fraxinus excelsior L.) has now become a colonizing species of mountain grasslands in the French Pyrenees. Its present distribution is dependent on past human activities and it is locally controlled by propagule pressure and abiotic conditions. However, even when all favourable conditions are met, all the potentially colonizable grasslands are not invaded. We hypothesize that management practices should play a crucial role in the control of ash colonization. From empirical field surveys we have compared the botanical composition of a set of grasslands (present and former) differing in management practices and level of ash colonization. We have displayed a kind of successional gradient positively linked to both ash cover and height but not to the age of trees. We have tested the relationships between ash presence in grassland and management types i.e. cutting and/or grazing, management intensity and some grassland communities' features i.e. total and local specific richness and species heterogeneity. Mixed use (cutting and grazing) is negatively linked to ash presence in grassland whereas grazing alone positively. Mixed use and high grazing intensity are directly preventing ash seedlings establishment, when low grazing intensity is allowing ash seedlings establishment indirectly through herbaceous vegetation neglected by livestock. Our results show the existence of a limit between grasslands with and without established ashes corresponding to a threshold in the intensity of use. Under this threshold, when ash is established, the colonization process seems to become irreversible. Ash possesses the ability of compensatory growth and therefore under a high grazing intensity develops a subterranean vegetative reproduction. However the question remains at which stage of seedling development and grazing intensity these strategies could occur.
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Marie-Pierre Julien, Alard Didier, Gerard Balent. Patterns of ash (Fraxinus excelsior L.) colonization in mountain grasslands: the importance of management practices. Plant Ecology, Springer Verlag, 2006, 183 (1), pp.177-189. ⟨10.1007/s11258-005-9019-x⟩. ⟨hal-01360582⟩

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