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Faculty of Biology, Chemistry and Earth Sciences

Chair of Plant Ecology - Prof. Dr. Steven Higgins

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Dengler, J; Becker, T; Ruprecht, E; Szabó, A; Becker, U; Beldean, M; Bita-Nicolae, C; Dolnik, C; Goia, I; Peyrat, J; Sutcliffe, LME; Turtureanu, PD; Ugurlu, E: Festuco-Brometea communities of the Transylvanian Plateau (Romania) – a preliminary overview on syntaxonomy, ecology, and biodiversity., Tuexenia, 32, 319-359 (2012)
Key words: bryophyte; conservation; dry grassland; High Nature Value grassland; lichen; nomenclatural revision; species richness; vascular plant; vegetation classification; vegetation-environment relationship
The Transylvanian Plateau in Romania is well known to host large areas of a variety of dry grassland types, still traditionally managed by low-intensity mowing or grazing. While this natural heritage is now under threat from changes in agricultural practices, the diversity of Transylvanian dry grasslands is still little understood. There is a lack of both field data sampled with standardised methods and a syn-taxonomic treatment with modern statistical methods and supra-regional perspective. Therefore, the European Dry Grassland Group (EDGG) carried out its first international Research Expedition in Transylvania 2009 to study syntaxonomy, vegetation-environment relationships, and biodiversity patterns of these communities. In various locations across Transylvania, we sampled 10-m2 vegetation plots (n = 82) and nested-plot series from 0.0001 m2 to 100 m2 (n = 20), including all vascular plant, bryophyte, and lichen species, as well as structural and soil data. The vegetation classification was carried out with modified TWINSPAN, followed by determination of diagnostic species with phi values and a small-scale re-assignment of relevés with the aim of crispness maximisation. Both TWINSPAN and ordination revealed three major groups of syntaxa, which were matched to three orders from theclass of basiphilous dry grasslands, Festuco-Brometea, represented by one alliance each: rocky dry grasslands (Stipo pulcherrimae-Festucetalia pallentis: Seslerion rigidae); xeric grasslands on deep soils (Festucetalia valesiacae: Stipion lessingianae) and meso-xeric grasslands on deep soils (Brachypodietalia pinnati: Cirsio-Brachypodion pinnati). We accepted nine association-level units plus two that potentially merit association status but were only represented by one relevé each. Most of the units could be identified with one or several previously described associations. To support nomenclatural stability, we pro- vide a nomenclatural revision and designate nomenclatural types where previously there were none. Further, we used DCA ordination and analysis of variance to determine the main environmental drivers of floristic differentiation and to determine ecological and structural differences between the vegetation types. The strongest differentiation occurred along the aridity gradient with the dense, particularly diverse stands on more or less level sites on the one hand (Brachypodietalia pinnati) and the more open, less diverse stands on steep south-facing slopes on the other end of the gradient (Stipo pulcherrimae- Festucetalia pallentis, Festucetalia valesiacae). The two xeric orders were then separated along the second DCA axis, with the Stipo pulcherrimae-Festucetalia pallentis inhabiting the stone-rich sites at higher altitudes while the Festucetalia valesiacae occur on soft, deep substrata at lower altitudes. The analysed dry grassland communities have extraordinarily high α-diversity at all spatial scales for all plants and for vascular plants, but are relatively poor in bryophytes and lichens. Some formerly mown stands of the Festuco sulcatae-Brachypodietum pinnati (Brachypodietalia pinnati) are even richer in vascular plant species than any other recorded vegetation type worldwide on the spatial scales of 0.1 m2 (43) and 10 m2(98); the respective relevés are documented here for the first time. Also, the β-diversity of the grasslands was unexpectedly high, with a mean z-value of 0.275. Despite its limited extent, the methodological thoroughness of this study allows us to shed new light on the syntaxonomy of dry grasslands in Romania and to raise the awareness that Transylvania still hosts High Nature Value grasslands that are bio -diversity hotspots at a global scale but at the same time are highly endangered through changes in agricultural practices.
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