The effects of reduction and cessation of sheep grazing on salt‐marsh vegetation were studied on a formerly intensively grazed salt marsh in northern Germany. Plant species cover was recorded in 45 permanent plots from 1992 to 2000. In 1995, physical and chemical soil parameters were analysed. Results of Redundancy Analysis (RDA) indicated that salinity and the depth of anoxic conditions below the surface were the most important soil factors related to the spatial vegetation pattern. Furthermore, plant species distribution was influenced by present and past grazing intensity, by soil grain size and nitrogen content.
Vegetation changes over 9 yr were analysed by non‐linear regression. The cover of Aster tripolium, Atriplex portulacoides, and, to a lesser extent, Artemisia maritima and Elymus athericus increased due to reduced grazing pressure, whereas the cover of Salicornia europaea decreased. After a strong increase in the first years Aster decreased 2 to 6 yr after abandonment. In the mid salt‐marsh zone Puccinellia maritima was replaced by Festuca rubra. The cover of Puccinellia, Festuca, Suaeda maritima, Glaux maritima and Salicornia fluctuated strongly, probably due to differences in weather conditions and inundation frequency. Species richness per 4 m2 generally increased while vegetation evenness decreased during the study period. Only in the high salt marsh abandoned for 9 yr did the number of species decrease slightly. Thus far, cessation of grazing did not lead to large‐scale dominance of single plant species.
Nomenclature: Wisskirchen & Haeupler (1998).
Abbreviation: RDA = Redundancy Analysis.