Questions: What is the contribution of management continuity during the last 30–40 years to variation in species diversity and composition of a calcareous wooded meadow plant community? Is tree cover related to species diversity and composition of the herbaceous layer? What are the effects of local soil gradients on species diversity?
Location: Laelatu calcareous wooded meadow, Western Estonian coastal zone.
Methods: Plant community composition was assessed in 150 1 m × 1 m plots, located at 30 sites with known management history within Laelatu meadow (7 ha). Light and soil conditions and relative altitude were measured at each plot. DCA was used to analyse variation in species composition and general linear mixed models to analyse the effects of management and environmental parameters on diversity.
Results: Management continuity was the primary determinant of plant community composition, followed by light conditions and soil parameters. Species richness, diversity and evenness are positively dependent on management continuity. Spatial autocorrelation is important as well. Diversity started to decline under the tree canopy where 50% or less irradiation reached the level of the herbaceous layer. We did not find significant effects of soil conditions on small-scale diversity.
Conclusions: Management continuity, together with the cover of the tree layer, are the most important determinants of diversity. Despite grassland stands with different management history are located side by side, the regeneration of diversity and composition of plant communities after restoring regular management practices is a slow process.