Response of floodplain grassland plant communities to altered water regimes
Toogood, S.E., Joyce, C.B. and Waite, S. (2008) Response of floodplain grassland plant communities to altered water regimes Plant Ecology, 197 (2). pp. 285-298. ISSN 1385-0237
Floodplain grasslands are often composed of a mosaic of plant communities controlled by hydrological regime. This article examines the sensitivity of floodplain grassland plant communities to water regime using reciprocal transplantation of an inundation grassland and a flood-meadow within an English floodplain. Experimental treatments comprised control, transplanted and lifted plots; the last treatment, in order to elucidate any disturbance effects of transplantation. Plant community response was analysed using species abundance and their ecological traits. Results from both communities showed substantial annual variations related to hydrology, including significant species changes, but generally, vegetation seemed to be responding to drier conditions following a major flood event. This ‘drying’ trend was characterised by increased species diversity, a greater abundance of competitive species and fewer typical wetland plants. Transplanted community composition increasingly resembled receptor sites and transplant effects were most pronounced the first year after treatment for both vegetation types. Differential responses to water regime were detected for the two plant communities. The inundation grassland community was particularly dynamic with a composition that rapidly reflected drying conditions following the major flood, but transplantation into a drier flood-meadow site prompted little additional change. The flood-meadow community appeared more resistant to postinundation drying, but was sensitive to increased wetness caused by transplantation into inundation grassland, which significantly reduced six species while none were significantly favoured. The effect of disturbance caused by lifting the transplants were limited in both communities, although five species showed significant annual fluctuations. The study shows that small alterations in water regime can prompt rapid vegetation changes and significant plant species responses in floodplain grasslands, with effects probably magnified through competitive interactions. The dynamic properties of floodplain vegetation demonstrated by this study suggest that its classification, management and monitoring are challenging and ideally should be based on long-term studies.
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