Question: What determines the balance between the cover values of vascular plants, lichens and mosses in dry calcareous grassland communities?
Location: Western Estonia.
Methods: A five-year (2001–2005) study was conducted in a dry calcareous grassland. The cover of mosses, lichens and vascular plants and all moss species was recorded in permanent plots. Vascular plants were cut in half of the plots. Data from a nearby weather station were used to calculate mean values of different weather parameters and a summer moisture index for the study years.
Results: Significant differences in cover values between years were found. The fluctuations of total moss cover and the cover of the dominating moss species Ctenidium molluscum followed changes in annual precipitation. Both cover values were highest in years with high precipitation. The cover change of vascular plants was best characterized by the moisture index of the growth period (three summer months). Summers with high moisture indexes facilitated vascular plant and lichen growth. Annual precipitation and the cover of mosses had a negative influence on the cover of vascular plants. The cutting of vascular plants did not have a significant effect on moss and lichen cover.
Conclusions: 1. On dry calcareous grasslands the growth of mosses is enhanced by high annual precipitation, while the growth of vascular plants and lichens is influenced rather by the high summer moisture index. The cover of vascular plants is inhibited by the large moss cover. 2. Mowing of vascular plants does not influence the cover of mosses and lichens.