Impacts of soil disturbance on plant diversity in a dry grassland

Dry grasslands are not only amongst the most species-rich habitats in Europe but also amongst the most threatened. Threats include habitat destruction as well as modification to the historic disturbance regime under which native plants have evolved (e.g. too high or too low levels of disturbance). The aim of this study is to examine the effects of soil disturbance intensity on species composition and diversity in a dry grassland in Mols Bjerge National Park in Denmark. We recorded vascular plant species inside and just outside patches of bare sand and at the transition between bare sand and dense vegetation outside the patches. We found that species richness was highest in the dense vegetation, intermediate in the transition zone and lowest in bare sand areas. However, an analysis of plant traits showed that the number of small annual species was highest in the transition zone. High abundance of small annual species may therefore indicate intermediate disturbance regimes. Moreover, literature indicates that many threatened species are adapted to such habitats, which suggests that dry grasslands should be managed to maintain areas with intermediate disturbance intensities to improve conditions for many threatened species. High abundance of small annual species thus indicates that favourable management has been achieved.