Question: Traditional management of grassland verges or ditch banks included mowing as a way to provide additional harvesting of hay. Nowadays, such sites are often left unmanaged, as mowing verges is no longer profitable in modern agricultural systems. Are vulnerable plant species able to withstand competition with the surrounding vegetation and maintain viable populations under these circumstances? How do they respond to reinstatement of traditional mowing regimes?
Location: Oedelem, northwestern Belgium.
Methods: To investigate the effect of reinstatement of the rare perennial Primula vulgaris, demography and adult plant performance were monitored in a grassland verge between 1999 and 2003 under different mowing regimes. Year transitions between life stages were analysed with matrix population models. To disentangle the contributions of the deviations in different life stage transitions to the variation in overall population growth rate, life table response experiments were used.
Results: Both management and year had a strong impact on demographic traits of P. vulgaris. If plots were left unmanaged, lower plant performance and declining population growth rates were observed. While population growth rates differed significantly between mowing regimes, mowing of plots only in July did not differ from mowing in July and October in terms of vegetative and reproductive output of adults. Mowing twice a year appeared to be most efficient in increasing population growth rate both by raising recruitment and growth of individuals into large reproductive adults.
Conclusions: Large P. vulgaris populations show a good ability to recover from recent abandonment of traditional management regimes. By mowing twice a year, managers are able to target vital rates that are most influential: growth and flowering of adult individuals.
Nomenclature: Lambinon et al. (1998).