Question: How does vegetation and management affect the population stage structure of Serratula tinctoria, a species indicative of highly endangered and species-rich flood-plain meadows? Are different management regimes suitable to support viable populations of S. tinctoria?
Location: Flood-plain of the northern Upper Rhine, Germany.
Methods: We analysed the population structure of S. tinctoria at 24 meadow sites which differed in vegetation and management. In this comparative study the investigated meadows were either (1) late mown in September; (2) early mown in June or (3) mown in June and then grazed by sheep.
Results: The structure of the surrounding vegetation had a clear effect on the population structure of S. tinctoria. The percentage of bare soil, as well as the cover of bryophytes, were positively related, whereas the Ellenberg N-value of the established vegetation was negatively related to the density and proportion of seedlings. Generally, we found only slight differences between the population structure of S. tinctoria in early and late mown meadows. Both management regimes had high densities of seedlings. In contrast, the meadow pastures supported significantly lower densities of seedlings and generative adults but relatively high densities of juveniles and vegetative adults, indicating a greater importance of clonal propagation under grazing pressure.
Conclusions: Our results clearly showed that viable populations of S. tinctoria may occur in all of the studied management regimes. Although S. tinctoria was considered to be highly sensitive to early mowing, our findings suggest a facilitation of the species at more nutrient-rich sites by mowing in June, which is also a benefit for the integration of management in farming systems.
Abbreviation: PAR = Photosynthetically active radiation.