Cattle influence grassland dynamics in three ways: herbage removal, dung deposition and trampling. The objective of this study was to assess the effects of these factors, separately or in combination, and to compare them with cattle grazing over a one year period in a field experiment conducted in the Jura Mountains of northwestern Switzerland.
A set of controlled treatments simulating the three factors was applied in a fenced area: (1) repeated mowing – three levels; (2) intensive trampling – two levels; (3) manuring with a liquid mixture of dung and urine – three levels. All treatments were applied homogeneously to the entire surface of each of the 40 plots inside the exclosure. Additionally, ten plots outside the fenced area represented reference plots with regular cattle pasturing. The multivariate response of species composition was assessed three times with the point-intercept method: in spring before the treatments, in autumn after one season of treatments and at the beginning of the following year after winter rest.
Multivariate analyses of vegetation data in the first year showed an overwhelming seasonal shift and significant differences induced by treatments. Abandoned and manured plots showed the largest deviation from the cattle grazed reference. Herbage removal, simulated by repeated mowing, appeared to be the most important factor for maintaining vegetation texture. Seasonal treatment effects were only partially carried over to the next spring, showing an unexpected resilience of the plant community, probably due to life-history traits and competition release following climatic disturbance in winter.
Nomenclature: Tutin et al. (1964–1980).
Abbreviation: PCA = Principal Component Analysis; RDA = Redundancy analysis.